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

Enhanced by Zemanta

DVD Review: Life

Hi all…

What is life? At its most basic level, it is a state of being alive at a cellular level or greater. And yet, we live on a world teeming with life in such abundance and diversity of form that it is so much more than that. Ultimately, I think that is what the most recent production from the BBC’s Natural History Unit is about.

Life was four years in the making from the producers of Planet Earth and The Blue Planet and takes us on another amazing journey around the world capturing on film the dazzling diversity of life we are blessed with on Earth. As with their previous productions, these filmmakers have provided us with the shock and awe of the natural world and shown us things we may never see otherwise.

Characterized by shots in real time and slow motion, we get to see creatures, alone and in groups, doing what they do best – surviving and perpetuating their species. From the tale of the gobie fish in Hawaii climbing waterfalls to spawn in perfect pools at the top of rocky cliffs and flying fish to the cycle of hunter and hunted played out in countless environments each day we are presented with crystal clear imagery that mesmerizes with almost every frame.

Originally broadcast at the end of 2009, the ten episodes of Life each focus on a unique aspect of living organisms on Earth.

The series starts with the “Challenges of Life” where the filmmakers present examples of how plants, animals, and insects manage to find enough food to eat and find ways to reproduce to ensure the continuation of their kind. Amazing footage of what a small mother strawberry poison dart frog does to keep her tadpoles safe in the rainforest canopy and the Pacific giant octopus sacrificing herself so that her children may survive show the lengths to which some creatures will go to protect and care for their young.

Life then walks through an episode for each major group of creatures on the planet – “Reptiles and Amphibians,” “Mammals,” “Fish,” “Birds,” and “Insects.” Each episode shows the cycles inherent in all living things – from the groupers spreading fertilized eggs in clouds beneath the waves that get eaten by predators to the damselfly’s chance to lay eggs interrupted by a leaping frog. Opportunities abound for all creatures in the food chain to do their part to survive.

The series then shifts to “Creatures of the Deep,” where photographers managed to show a seal carcass beneath the Antarctic ice provides food for urchins, sea stars, and nemertean worms proving that creatures big and small will find ways to eat and reproduce even in the harshest conditions. The amazing footage of hundreds of thousands of spider crabs moulting in the shallows off South Australia was amazingly bizarre, yet memorable.

In “Plants” we see the other side of the equation, from the forest floor to the canopy, the ocean floor to the desert – flora has also found ways to adapt and thrive in inhospitable places. The exposed roots of the Epiphytes in the rain forest canopy trapping water and leaves for nutrients provide a stark contrast to the Bristlecone pine trees that can live up to 5,000 years with a six-week growing season above 9800 feet.

And lastly, the series focuses on the “Primates” – our distant cousins on the evolutionary chart. These intelligent, social creatures – from baboons and macaques using troop dynamics and bloodlines to determine the outcome of disputes to the White-faced capuchins using rocks to break open clams for dinner. It’s impossible not to see similarities to the human condition that we experience every day.

Though we weren’t able to catch each episode as it aired in the Discovery Channel, we were excited to see the series become available on DVD recently. It’s another amazing achievement for the BBC Natural History Unit and their dedicated, amazing photography teams scattered around the globe.

Each episode on the DVD was accompanied by a “Life on Location” special feature, which documented some of the challenges the film crews faced while trying to get footage for the production. Though short, each provided a glimpse into the commitment necessary to become a world-class nature photographer.

My one complaint with the series is that they chose Oprah Winfrey to do the narration this time. Though Oprah is a force to be reckoned with in her own right and the scripts were well written, her voice has an interesting tendency to put me to sleep. The visuals were stunning and I wanted to hear the stories, but found her narration monotone enough to make it difficult to watch.

And as if they wanted to rub in how boring Oprah’s narration was, they had David Attenborough narrate the extras for each episode that describe the challenges faced by the crews sent out to get the footage. Though nearing retirement, Attenborough’s voice seemed infused with energy and life compared to listening to Oprah.

Though tempted to use the “Music Only” viewing option, we managed to get through Oprah’s droning and enjoy the entire series at my house. Hopefully they will find better narrators in the future. Jim Carrey would be a good choice (he recently narrated Under the Sea for IMAX) and James Earl Jones would also be great.

Don’t let Oprah stop you from enjoying Life on DVD. It’s another amazing documentary series from the BBC that you won’t want to miss. Hopefully they’ll have a better narrator for the upcoming Frozen Planet series to air in 2012 on the Discovery Channel!

Article first published as DVD Review: Life (2010) on Blogcritics.

–Fitz

Enhanced by Zemanta

DVD Review: IMAX: Under the Sea

Hi there!

Though my family loves seeing films of all kinds on a huge IMAX screen, I will be the first to admit that it’s a bit expensive to do so regularly. Instead, we find ourselves watching some of the beautiful documentaries on DVD. That’s certainly the case with IMAX: Under the Sea, in which Jim Carrey narrates a few colorful, entertaining, and cautionary tales about the denizens of the deep blue sea.

Originally released in IMAX theaters in 2009, this short (41 minute) film presents some absolutely stunning video of some of the most beautiful spots in the blue waters of Papua New Guinea, Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, and Indonesia. From the vents spouting gas bubbles like undersea fountains to the amazing array of colors and types of undersea life, the film does an amazing job of giving viewers just a glimpse of the Coral Triangle – home to a majority of the marine species in the world.

The crystal clear waters were unbelievably perfect for filming, showing the brilliant blues, bright oranges, reds, greens, yellows and shadows beneath the surface. The patience of these videographers to capture just the right shot gets you right into the action. How they ever found a crab willing to wear a jellyfish as a hat is beyond me.

But the show stealer for me was the courting dance of the female cuttlefish and her two male suitors set to “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” by Doris Day. Carrey speaks quietly about their mating technique as the males try to get her attention long enough to perpetuate the species. The dance seems perfectly timed to the music as the female tries admirably to ignore her suitors. Her “playing hard to get” shows that we’re not so different as a species after all.

Though Jim Carrey is more well known for his comedic roles in movies like Bruce Almighty and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, he does an admirable job of maintaining an even tempo to the narrative track written by Howard Hall, who also directed the film and acted as the director of photography. Carrey’s humor slips in now and then, as when describing a wobbegong shark as a shag carpet or a stone fish having waited several days getting frustrated after missing a meal. But there’s a seriousness in his voice as well and it’s easy to hear his own concern for this delicate environment and what humankind has done to affect it.

As with many documentaries, the film serves to entertain and educate, showing not only the beauty that remains brilliantly alive but how changes to seawater temperature and acidity due to air and water pollution affect the coral reefs and the thousands of species that depend on them. Ultimately, we must be more aware of the environmental impact of our decisions on the surface or film will be all we have left to remember these beautiful undersea vistas.

Watching with my wife and children, we really enjoyed IMAX: Under the Sea even on our much smaller screen. This film, from the makers of Deep Sea and Into the Deep, does an amazing job of showing the beauty beneath the waves and expressing the urgency with which we must take better care of our planet’s wonders.

For more details, be sure to check out the film’s website at UnderTheSeaMovie.com. The film is available in a Blu-ray Combo Pack, on DVD, and for download.

Article first published as DVD Review: IMAX: Under the Sea on Blogcritics.org

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Under the Sea and other great documentary DVDs at Barnes & Noble below!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]