87th Annual Academy Awards

Introduction

It’s that time again. In this post I will be live-blogging my random thoughts on the ceremony. A good way to kick -off such a post is to include a hilarious parody I just saw today from Dan Schneider writer/producer of several Nickelodeon shows including Henry Danger, which provides the world and actors (Cooper Barnes and Jace Norman) for this parody. Enjoy!

Also, here are some of my pre-Red Carpet tweets in anticipation.

Red Carpet

Tuned in way late. I guess the annoying half-hour preshow that’s mandatory attendance has forced arrivals to start earlier.

I wish Josh had shaved, but oh well. Shall I do the whole couture angle?

Didn’t recognize either Faith Hill or Tim McGraw.

Benjamin Button isn’t the one that doesn’t age, that’s Dorian Gray.

I wonder if kids watching this now are having a “Who’s that?” moment seeing Melanie Griffith with Dakota Johnson, as many likely had when Tippi Hedren attended with Melanie?

“I’m Brigitta, she’s Louisa. She’s thirteen years old, and you’re smart! I’m ten, and I think your dress is the ugliest one I ever saw!” -Lady GaGa in The Sound of Music tribute.

I think I like that jacket Ansel. Always in favor of something a little different for men as we have less options.

Brilliantly articulated thoughts by Miles Teller. Great stuff. Fan now!

So is that William Moseley from Narnia in that new E! show that looks questionable?

Rosamund Pike is red that works, unlike some others on this broadcast.

Time for the time-wasting show.

Finally seeing more outfits now. Yellow and Gold making statements with Stone and Moretz.

Great to see Robin Roberts working the show.

Yay, the countdown is teasing us.

Ceremony

OK, have been absent due to guests and a problem-child dog.

Very cool that there was a Devo theme to some costumes in “Everything is Awesome” considering Mothersbaugh started there.

Niel Patrick Harris is having some great moments, not just the song but the obligatory “movies are great” speech also.

Unsurprising that Ida and J.K. Simmons won, but their speeches made up for the lack of surprise in who was awarded.

Lots of good selections to choose from in the Live Action shorts. I wish Boogaloo and Graham had gotten it though.

Awesome dedication to crisis center workers.

Didn’t get to see the Short Subject docs.

So all the Lifetime Awards were moved to the Governors Awards. Sad.

My post where many of those winners are listed.

So no Interstellar sound awards. So I got that portion right.

Patricia Arquette: great speech! We always need a statement.

So this is the year Disney gets Best Animated Short? Really?

YAY, for not How to Train Your Dragon 2. I do love Big Hero 6 though.

Good to see Octavia Spencer and Charlie Rowe at the Oscars. Cancellations happen to good actors too and I hope to see them in something again real soon.

“In A Million Ways to Die in the West I pooped in a hat.”

Birdman getting Cinematography is not surprise and well-earned. I just wish Black & White hasn’t had such a long drought.

Can the awkwardness Terence Howard had to offer be topped?

Predicting an Oscar moment is never a way to do things.

In case I’ve not stated it:

I LOVE THE SOUND OF MUSIC.

The Sound of Music (1965, 20th Century Fox)

Is wanting Desplat to have won for something else, too gripey? LOL.

Now it’s time to play “How late are they going to run, anyway?”

Birdman!

OK, I am extraordinarily pleased with this year’s screenwriting winners!

Graham Moore has the most emotional speech so far.

Was predicting a split between Boyhood and Birdman but maybe I had it the wrong way around?

Interesting that they bumped Best Director up in the order.

Amen, to Alejandro’s sentiments on art, competition and time.

Only recently discovered what two Academy Award nominated films (Mr. Turner and Still Alice) are about. Hope to see both soon.

Best Picture presenter is always a bit of a curveball.

Great closing quotes from Keaton and Iñárritu.

Goodnight  everybody!

Batman (1989, Warner Bros.)

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DVD Review – Straight A’s

Introduction

I don’t frequently write DVD reviews, but upon seeing this film I was compelled to watch the special bonus features on it as well. Typically, I would stick to a review of the program on the disc, but have included thoughts on the features below.

Film

Straight A's (2013, Courtesy of Millennium Entertainment)

The film has a very basic synopsis and I will not elaborate much at all on that here. It’s likely better that you go in knowing that much or less about this film. Straight A’s really caught me by surprise as a refreshing, character-driven family dramedy, that doesn’t get bogged down in the histrionics that are potential pitfalls of a film with a synopsis such as this one.

I will readily admit that I just may have a soft spot for family dramedies. However, the recent film in the subgenre that comes to mind for me is Fireflies in the Garden, and that film pushes its melodramatic limits, whereas there is a fairly realistic grounding to be found here. Characters’ motivations and reactions make sense, things are played up as much as they need to be and are still fairly effective. While the overtures of external conflict are apparent, there is also a lot inner-turmoil that the film is wise enough to hold the reins on, and allow some disputes to be settled sub-textually rather than textually.

There are two things this film does very well early on that set it up for success: The first is that it establishes an overt structure for the titles that confirm the passage of time and that a new day has begun. I’m not one who is slavish towards a ticking clock mentality, but far too often films employing this sub-division approach lag because we as an audience have no clue what the endgame is, and they’d be better off letting time flow organically. This structure becomes intrinsic to this film and aids the flow of it.

That narrative structure established is confirmed by the voice over of the film’s narrator Charles (Thomas Riley Stewart) and that sets up one of the many wonderful symmetries of this film. Quite a few pieces of dialogue, motifs and themes come back around unexpectedly and close many a tidy, well-wrought circle. This is assisted by the strong, certain manner in which the narrative asserts itself.

In building these characters the film does well to split the job. It always shows something about them when they’re alone, usually visually, and is constantly rounding in interaction, but perhaps the best work the film does is through dialogue. The black sheep returning to the fold is Scott (Ryan Phillippe) who is always direct. There is also the fact that Charles is very intelligent that could lead to a number of pitfalls, but his dialogue isn’t instantly and persistently showy, and neither of the kids are condescended to. It’s just one tool that that the film uses to constantly add new definition to its main characters, but one of the best used.

One good example both of dialogue and of how the film avoids overplaying its hand is one of the lead-up-to events – an oral presentation Charles has before his whole school. In this sequence, I was reminded of how the speech in Crazy, Stupid, Love devolved from its diegetic script to being a very literal thinking out loud. There’s a clear message, but never one that’s bluntly said. It’s also another good case of follow-through in the subjective editing choices that are made.

There is also good use of montages and cross-cutting sequences that are more nested and less overt than you see many times. For as strong as the film is with its use of dialogue, it doesn’t ignore the visual end of things either and has quite a few visual signatures throughout.

Of course, any film described as character-driven needs its actors to deliver in order to work and this film has that as well. Ryan Phillippe seems to be quite connected throughout and fills in those blanks the script can’t; portraying troubled, irresponsible with good intentions that could just read like a jerk. Luke Wilson, like in Meeting Evil, finds a part that really seems to suit his type, his poker-faced, button-lipped character’s moment of decision reads better due the whole of his performance. Paquin’s facade of control is always erected, even as she loses it, and it makes her a presence that can be reasonable seem to be one that would be acquiesced to, even by Scott. There’s also Powers Boothe with a significant secondary role, that’s sensitive and understated. Boothe is an actor who you literally can’t see enough of. Last, but not least, there’s Riley Thomas Stewart who has the unenviable task of playing intelligent, precocious yet still childlike and endearing, and he succeeds with flying colors. Even when the dialogue is clearly designed to show his vast intellect it just sounds like Charles talking as opposed to an actor doing a line reading, which is a hard task with verbose lines.

Straight A‘s is the kind of film that might slip under one’s radar. I know I’m glad I found it, as it’s yet another dark horse for this year that I really connected with.

9/10

Special Features

Straight A's (2013, Millennium Entertainment)

While they are a little stripped-down with quick cuts to black and spotty audio, the three special features on the disc make up for in content what they lack in flash.

There’s a featurette, which is about trailer-length that’s a quick splicing together of interview and final film footage.

There are interviews with director, producers and several stars of the film, which run about 17 minutes and explore the themes of the work rather well without getting overly-bogged down in minutiae, but also lends a personal perspective from each participant with interesting tidbits.

Most interesting to me was the behind the scenes footage. They were usually rather quick shots taken during production of the set-up of shots, gear being put in place or moved, takes being done, or re-done and the like. This runs around six minutes. It’s bereft of commentary so it would likely be more intriguing for a filmmaker, but it is an interesting touch to be added to the package.

Straight A‘s is out on DVD and Blu-Ray today.

March to Disney: Zokkomon and Disney World Cinema

This is a series of posts this month wherein I will focus on Disney films. For more on my background with Disney films and about the timing of this focus please read the introductory post here.

Disney has two fairly recently initiated and under-exploited and under-publicized home video lines. I may write about them both here today, but the focus of this piece is Disney World Cinema rather than Disney Generations Collection.

Disney World Cinema, as the title implies, makes available in the US Disney-Produced titles from overseas. The selections so far a mainly original content, and not as diverse as they could be.

For example, I was once linked to a clip of a visually stunning film produced by Russia’s Disney Channel, but understanding 0.001% of the Russian language I couldn’t watch all of it. The point being there is plenty of content out there this line could make available. Out of the initial wave of releases I selected one and finally gave it a whirl for this theme.

One of the examples in this line is a High School Musical set in China. Now Foreign versions of movies or TV shows, that are remakes as opposed to subtitled or dubbed are not new. In fact, in the early days of sound, scripts used to be translated and re-shot on the cheap after an A-List feature was done. Paramount was a prime example using everything identical to the American version for Spanish features.

The film I saw comes from India and is entitled Zokkomon. Now, while simplified, there is a more indigenous approach to the film in terms of the fairly apparent themes it tackles with minimal didacticism. The feel of the film is a hybrid between a DCOM and a big budget Bollywood musical, which also includes elements of tentpole action films towards the end. Yes, there are story-commenting, fairly random musical numbers that border on non-diegitic inasmuch as a narrator/singer is introduced, but it still remains a fairly hybrid product.

While even at a relatively short 105 minutes there are a few flashback montages too many and a spare song or two, but it’s not so bloated that it weighs down the entire project. There are some universally recognizable, and identifiable fairy tale tropes updated to make this perhaps one of the more obvious titles to try this series out on. The principal cast is fairly good as a whole, namely Majari Phandis, Tinnu Anand with the standout being the young lead Darsheel Safary.

Disney has their Channel and distribution arms the world over, there are likely more markets where titles can be found for this line. Perhaps merging this concept with the also under-ultilized and under-publicized Disney Generations Collection, a disc-on-demand concept similar to Warner Archive in conception, if not in practice, is the way to go for these films, such that there’s less monetary commitment to pressing copies, thus making a larger library available. In a similar vein, a DisneyNature feature, Wings of Life, that was originally only released in France will soon hit US home video for the first time. This will be its only release here, in lieu of a theatrical run, but in time for Earth Day.

Zokkomon served as a good introduction, that had I seen it as soon as it was available may have been in the running for some BAM Awards, I may look into the other selections and you should check them out and see if any titles appeal to you.

Thankful for World Cinema: Before Tomorrow

Before Tomorrow is the conclusion of a trilogy of films about the Inuit people being shot in Canada. The first being Fast Runner, which I saw and loved, and The Diary of Knud Rasmussen, which somehow was missed. It is a thematic trilogy, and not a sequential trilogy, following more in the European tradition where it’s variations on a theme and not necessary a contiguous storyline.

The film is both sparse in dialogue and replete with visual wonders. It might seem like a simple task to go up north near the Arctic Circle and get wondrous images and let the vistas do the work but there are frames, compositions and exposures that truly make these shots what they are. The edit also plays into the visual beauty of this film. There are at least three dissolves which are executed with such grace and beauty on both ends it brought to mind a quote by Truffaut where he says “So few directors can gracefully dissolve one shot into another.” This most certainly is not the case here.

There are also two different kinds of shooting here. There are more narrative-based landscape shots as the story gets more and more focused on the Grandmother (Madeline Ivalu) and her grandson (Paul-Dylan Ivalu), yet at the beginning there is quite a bit of handheld documentary-style shooting which is very well-done.

What you get in this film and its predecessors is truly a modern interpretation of Neo-Realism. Non-professional but engaging actors playing parts they understand in minimalist storylines. To relate the entirety of the tale would be entirely too easy within this space and would leave you with no surprises. There are surprises to be had and there are many emotions to be experienced within.

What will be said can be true of all simplistic storytelling, it’s the execution that elevates it, and that’s definitely the case here, yet as stripped-down as the on-screen action is there manage to be stories within the story. The film examines the oral traditions of the tribe and there are frequently stories being asked for and told that either inform or contrast the action we have been witness to.

The film ends as a close to the trilogy because after the tale of this particular installment is told then there is a slow-motion montage of the tribe living. Barring seeing the middle installment this could very well be the most overlooked, under-appreciated and impressive trilogies of the decade.

This is a film that will not cut quickly, that will take its time to develop. Allow it to. There is more than one way to make a film and to make a hyper-kinetic film with a people who are concerned with months and seasons and not so much with minutes and hours would seem wrong.

What you find here is a tidy, simple tale which is well told and as the best cinema does it shows you a world you would otherwise have no access to. It’s a tender and tenderly told tale which has humor, humanity and surprises. It’s a film that truly transports and even only having seen the bookends this was the perfect capper to the trilogy.

10/10

61 Days of Halloween: Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Friday the 13th, Part IV: The Final Chapter

As per usual, this installment started with scenes of the previous films spliced in, here, however, they finally get creative with it and have it be more montage style and less blatant exposition as it also shows several memorable kills right off the bat to get the audience’s appetite whetted for what’s to come.

The film also picks up immediately with the paramedics and police clearing the scene of the latest massacre. In a very nice touch, the film actually takes a breath once the camp is empty anew and lets us realize that this was just the scene of chaos and now it’s as if nothing happened, all we hear are the crickets. It’s perhaps the best of the few masterful strokes this film has. It’s a film that eventually trips itself but that was a great moment.

The dialogue throughout most of the film is nothing short of a train wreck. Couple that with much overacting and it’s difficult to have sympathy for many of the characters who Jason is about to slay.

There are too many characters in the equation in this film, especially considering how it ends. You meet the Jarvis family, then a group of teens going to a cabin in the woods (cue the score from Evil Dead: The Musical) and the twins they meet and then a Jason hunter. Now, I am well aware that this is a body count franchise but the time could’ve been alloted differently. Shorter teen & twins intro, shorter canoodling sequence, get them killed build the Jarvis family and the “Jason hunter” who will factor greatly in the film.

There are, in the end, too many balls in the air that don’t really have any bearing on the end of the film or the main thrust of the film. Again, these things can still happen but they were either too long or repetitive. There is some bad random 80s dancing, randomly found silent porn which is watched for too long, a lot of cattiness both of the male and the female variety that can all be avoided.

While the end with Jason being fooled by Tommy and Tommy’s turn are wonderful truly masterful strokes there is prior stupidity that undercuts its effectiveness. The main sticking point is this Trish is frantic when she finds out Jason’s loose and has to get home to protect Tommy. She returns home in a panic to confirm he’s fine. She is informed their mom is missing. Even though “The Hunter” insists she stays home while he finds her and Jason she insists on going…which leaves Tommy, who she was just so panicked about, alone again…come on man! It’s the simplest fix in the world and it wasn’t fixed and just took me out of the moment. Suspension of disbelief, gone.

The end does manage to be effective. If you like the series and are a completist definitely view it but it was hanging on by thread to liking it but that lapse in logic lost me.

61 Days of Halloween: Devil

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

One thing you will not get in this particular review is citations of other reviews and rebuttals in defense of M. Night Shyamalan. While I stand by the opinion ultimately expounded in my review of The Last Airbender, I would’ve altered my approach if I had to do it over again (Thus, it has not been re-posted yet – and may remain so). As for this film, it’s the first of what is being referred to as the Night Chronicles Trilogy. His impact on this film is a story credit alone so mention of him will be minimal, aside from saying that his stamp can definitely be felt on this story regardless of the level of involvement he actually had. This is a thriller which hearkens back to some of his earlier films and oddly one where you’re not necessarily waiting for a twist, but you get it anyway and it does not color the whole film.

The film starts with inverted shots of the Philadelphia skyline. They are shots whose significance is not immediately made known, and not overtly explained. They set the tone for a film where something is slightly amiss throughout.
 The film does well to keep its tale confined to the elevator as much as it possibly can. Granted to investigate and to try to get to the bottom of the mystery it is necessary to go outside on occasion; the fact that so much of the film is contained to that cramped space definitely is a boon to the narrative and aids its effectiveness.

When dealing with a film that is so confined such that its part-absurdist chamber drama it is crucial that your cast be capable of carrying the film and this cast is definitely capable. The core of the cast being: Logan Marshall-Green, Jenny O’Hara, Bokeem Woodbine, Geoffrey Arend and Bojana Novakovic. What is most compelling about not only the story but also their respective portrayals is that at one moment or another they all lead you to believe that they, in fact, are the devil in the elevator car.

The film also employs a narrator, who acts as storyteller. A technique it seems that is a bit on the rebound in film. However, in this case this narrator does not get into the fray too much but merely fills in a few blanks and acts, essentially as the glue binding this tale together. It is this voice that gives a little reason to the tale. Whereas without this narrator it might just send a chill or two up your spine with the narrator there is a point made and something to reflect upon.

With the combination of the opening montage and the narrator setting the stage the tension level in this film is ratcheted up pretty early and rarely if ever dissipates throughout out. There is a consistent feeling of dread which is pounced upon at opportune times and while there are peaks and valleys the highs are high enough to sustain a significant level of interest.

The only things that can be questioned are very minor points which could’ve been addressed by more judicious editing of the footage and story itself. One concern is that while most believe the elevator is malfunctioning due to possibilities that are terrestrial we follow around a janitor. He vanishes from the story for too long. Pieces of his journey to the roof and basement could’ve been spliced in real quick so he wouldn’t disappear for so long after having been a significant player in the early going. The characters also don’t think to use their cell phones as flashlights during the temporary blackouts for far too long. The introduction of the religious element of the film is a bit clumsy and lastly our protagonist, Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) does a Sherlock Holmes impersonation in deducing the circumstances surrounding a suicide early on that is not only a bit extraneous but also a little hard to swallow.

However, Devil is still a highly effective and well-crafted tale that is an edge-of-your-seat kind of film that is well worth your time.


8/10

Review- A Bag of Hammers

A Bag of Hammers is a comedy, which follows two men in their 20s who make a living stealing cars and suddenly find that responsibility falls into their laps when a neighboring child loses his mother. The film, as some have noted, fits a bit to the mold of About A Boy. The main difference being that here its a pair of men and they are somewhat less reticent to assume responsibility.

The film is quite funny but it does mix in its themes rather well because of that fact. There are comments on child rearing and social services being made with out being too on the head about either of them. Also, considering that this pair of leads can be seen as beyond imperfect role models and quintessential slackers it does underline the points that are being made. These same points are further underlined by the fact that their background is not dissimilar to that of the young boy’s.

One thing the film is to be commended for is its handling of quirkiness. The temptation to be quirky in pursuit of originality is a strong one, especially in an indie film, especially in a comedy. However, quirkiness for quirkiness’ sake can be a disturbance to the progression of a film. What this film does well is makes the idiosyncrasies seeming necessities, and builds them through the characters and not as plot devices.

The pace of a film is a significant boon to it. The film doesn’t run long but I think that we all know that running time is not necessarily a fair gauge of pace. The pace is positively breezy throughout and the film really flows well for the most part.

The lone exception to the pacing brilliance is the fact that the third act is a bit abrupt. I can’t say it’s the handling that’s poor, it’s just that there’s a certain disproportion to the structure and a bit of acceleration through the end that could require a little more time than it gets.

However, what does need to be said is that the film is propelled to said end by a brilliantly framed and beautifully rendered wish-fulfillment montage, the likes of which you rarely see in this day and age. It truly is the coup de grace of the entire film and it’s rather breathtaking and should serve as an instructional as to how to construct a montage.

One thing that’s interesting to note is that the film, despite some it’s comedy being rather broad and it’s dramatic question being very much up front, it does handle thing with a certain bit of restraint. Namely after the film myself and the two friends I viewed it with were debating the sexuality of the two friends. It’s something that’s never addressed directly but certainly gives food for thought.

The performances in this film are wonderful. Jason Ritter, the spitting image of his father John, plays his character sincerely with great comedic timing and dramatic aplomb. He even carries the film through it’s most difficult patch where his character is resistant to taking care of the boy. Jake Sandvig is comedically deadpan and very sensitive as the character who reaches out to the child. The child, of course, plays a crucial role and Chandler Canterbury who is a very talented, as of yet underrated young talent, is very good in this role. He retains innocence while emoting the browbeaten posture of a child in an inadequate home situation and also shows great restraint emotionally. The scenes between him and his mother feature some of the best writing in the film.

A Bag of Hammers is by no means perfect but it does deserve to be seen and sought out if you have not heard of it yet. It’s both funny and moving and gets the manic depressive seal of approval: you’ll laugh, you’ll cry. Be on the lookout for it.

8/10

Book Review- The Film Sense by Sergei Eisenstein

Eisenstein’s The Film Sense is a book I had never even seen in print anywhere before. I happened to find it when I was in Brazil searching through a rather large bookstore’s film section. You know a bookstore is good when you find many foreign language offerings, and I was able to pick up quite a few film texts in English there.

Sergei Eisenstein is likely the only filmmaker whose work as a theorist is of equal importance. Aside from spear-heading montage as the defining element of film, he wrote extensively about it and it’s all brilliant stuff. His angle in this book is tremendous. In it he seeks to create a “film sense” by drawing on elements of other art forms. Much of the writing actually does have to do with music as he is discussing how incorporating sound and music will co-exist with picture cutting.

There are many brilliant talking points. First, he touches on word and image, which is similar to a touched upon topic in Film Form, here he examines examples of montage in other artforms. Then he talks about synchronization of the senses, which is how film can, will and should play on all our senses, especially given this new development. In a perhaps revolutionary way he also discusses color in literature and in music and relates it to film, even though at this writing color was an abstract concept seen in shades of gray.

The writing flows beautifully and is just brilliant in terms of observation and the sources from which he draws. He illustrates how cinema must be the culmination of all other artforms and draw from them. I will admit it gets a bit dense with the both the in depth musical discussion, as I am more intuitive rather than well-versed there, and a bit with the montage flow diagrams and shots, having seen some of the films helps but the point does usually come across regardless.

Also, this is a rare book where the appendices are not only a must read but brilliant. They include: shot sheets, treatment sections of un-produced works, outlines and a very detailed bibliography for further reading.

All in all this is a fantastic book that is worth seeking out for serious aestheticians, filmmakers and film students. I found it endlessly fascinating such that I made many notes and underlined significantly and considered further analysis of the text but will leave it as this brief recommendation instead.

Review- Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Carla Gugino, Maxwell Perry Cotton, Madeline Carroll and Jim Carrey in Mr. Popper's Penguins (20th Century Fox)

You may not be expecting much when walking into a film like Mr. Popper’s Penguins. While it certainly won’t blow anyone away it does have some surprises in store and it really is quite good.

There is a quick backstory montage with some flashes that establishes who our protagonist is and what his relationship with his father was like. This sets up our expectations for what he will be like as a grown man. While this set up can have us assuming certain things how they come about is a bit unexpected.

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film is Jim Carrey’s performance. Here you get what I call a hybrid of his two very distinctive styles, both of which I like. It’s a homogenization of his over-the-top comedy and his dramatic persona much more so than Liar Liar, which is very much the former.

This film also sets up several standard situations but avoids trapping the film in overly-familiar gags and goes about things differently. There are Needing to be Two Places at Once, Apparent Defeat and Ulterior Complications that are to an extent necessary and accepted handled briskly and with a twist such that they’re not stale.

This film by doing those stock things in a slightly more inventive, fresher way does end up being rather funny. There is a good dose of slapstick and verbal comedy thrown into the mix such that it’s balanced.

Comedy aside it is a family film and so the family unit has to be strong in terms of performance and chemistry and this film does that perfectly. Aside from Carrey you have Carla Gugino as his ex-wife and Madeline Carroll and Maxwell Perry Cotton as his children. Though she’s played other roles Gugino since Spy Kids is the prototypical uber-mom charming and appealing to all ages. The kids have very different tasks and handle them brilliantly: Carroll as a teenage girl whose emotions are always teetering on the edge and Cotton who plays the younger brother wise beyond his years. They make fantastic foils and allow Carrey to play drama and comedy at times simultaneously.

The children and the family story ultimately bring out the biggest surprise in that while packaged as a goofy animal film it is a sweet, heartfelt story.

While his dialogue does get a bit repetitive the film does adequately turn the man from the zoo into a serviceable villain. There are also secondary threats to the penguins conditions that never over-intrude but make their presence known.

The CG work that’s done, when it’s needed, in this film is also well-rendered and never too obvious.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins is one of the better surprises I’ve had at the movies in while. Which just goes to show that just as you can’t judge a book by its cover you can’t judge a film by its trailer (or its poster for that matter).

7/10

Review- Soul Surfer

AnnaSophia Robb in Soul Surfer (Tristar Pictures)

Soul Surfer is an interesting film that may not yet have found its audience yet for a number of reasons but if I were a betting man, and there were bets on such things, I might be inclined to back this film as one that would find an audience through video over the years to come. It’s kind of a weird property looking at it from afar: a surfing film, which is also a biopic with a religious element to it being released in April. It’s essentially a summer film that didn’t want get buried amidst blockbusters and is trying to make some waves (yes, I can be punny, sue me) in a rather tranquil time.

None of the above is meant to sound like an indictment of the film. The fact of the matter is I truly enjoyed how multi-faceted I found the film to be. When you try and tackle too much in a film it can turn into a mess but when you can connect on disparate elements and tie them together then you’ve got something really good on your hands.

Looking at it from each perspective let’s see how the film works: firstly, there’s the surfing element under the larger umbrella of sports film. As has been said frequently, the best sports films aren’t really about the game, thus, they can hit home with the largest possible audience. However, it must be said that this movie is a sneaky good sports film. Due to the different things the film is trying to accomplish there isn’t a tremendous amount of time dedicated to the varying facets of a sports film but they get it spot on with the most important one: this film communicates in spades the love of the game and it’s mostly through cinematography, sound editing and a really well-written opening voice over, which stands head-and-shoulders above the voice over opening from the Best Picture nominee The Blind Side.

There’s also a sports rivalry, which as a subplot can either add depth or become an encumbrance on the narrative, it does the former and never gets in the way too much. As does the very chaste and timid love interest, just a little more humanity without over-complicating things. The ultimate example of its excelling in its sport movie mold is that it emphasizes, in the end, the joy of competing over that of victory better than most.

The personal journey works as well to fit the biopic mold. The stasis is well-established and then shattered and a new reality must be dealt with. There is also a very brief and practically perfect amount of time spent in the woe-is-me phase of her story. You also get a refreshingly good self-improvement montage and wonderful, if foreseeable, epiphany.

With regards to the religious aspect of the film it’s there, it’s a motivating factor in her recovery, it’s something Bethany questions and leans on. The film handles this very well not only in keeping it and making it a more true biography but adding some depth to the character and avoiding getting overly preachy and pedantic. Some films it seems can’t deal with any type of spirituality in it without it becoming a spiritual film. It’s an element that folds in very well.

If there’s anything that can be said against the narrative it’s just that there is a certain amount of evenness to it. The three facets while working well together allow you to stay on a rather even keel until the final competition. Yet it’s still a fun film to watch regardless of your investment level.

There is also some very impressive CG work done with the missing limb, it’s the best kind of CG work because it’s functional and doesn’t become the film. The sequence of the accident is also rather stunning and one of a few very well-handled and dramatically-rendered sequences in the film.

Much of the cast in this film does very well and the performances run rather deep down the line. You get three very strong performances just out of the family. AnnaSophia Robb has been mostly unseen since Race to Witch Mountain and before that Bridge to Terabithia but she shows here a rather seamless and graceful transformation to an adult role, and a leading one at that. It’s also wonderful to see Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid not just working but doing great and in a quality project. They each have their own moments to shine here. Ross Thomas and Chris Brochu play the usually jovial, supportive brothers but do have their dramatic moments. Kevin Sorbo also plays a refreshingly low-key and sympathetic character here and Jeremy Sumpter has a small part but plays one big scene wherein he shows flashes of greatness and how he is one of the most under-utilized young actors in films today.

Soul Surfer is a very enjoyable film that you should try to see on the big screen before it’s theatrical run ends.

8/10