Tag Archives: Family Comedy

How to Watch: “Mr. Popper’s Penguins”

Step 1: Go ahead and pop this Penguin treat. The Jim Carrey comedy is the kind of brain friendly family entertainment perfect for a summer movie.

Step 2: Add penguins. Seriously, you could be watching the worst movie ever made and if they happen to stick in an adorable penguin, suddenly the film isn’t so bad. Based on a 1938 children’s novel, the Mr. Popper’s Penguins story is simplicity to the point of formulaic. Popper (Carrey) is a workaholic real estate whiz who specializes in getting people to sell their old properties so he can tear them down and build shiny new buildings. Popper has an ex wife (Carla Gugino) and two kids (Madeline Carroll and Matthew Perry Cotton) he doesn’t pay a lot of attention to. Wait, is this sounding a little like Carrey’s other comedy Liar, Liar? Yes, but unfortunately not quite as funny.

Step 3: Don’t fight the penguins. Things start to change for Popper when his late father, a professional adventurer who was never home when Popper was a kid, leaves him six “souvenirs,” aka Gentoo penguins from the Antarctic. Suddenly, Popper’s pristine co-op Manhattan apartment turns into a happy fun place for the flightless fowl, who also begin to take over Popper’s life – for the better. His kids love the little rascals – Loudy, Stinky, Lovey, Nimrod, Bitey and our favorite, Captain – and want to spend more time with dad, as does the ex wife. Of course, his career suffers, but well, it should, right? Popper has to take a hard look at himself, right?

Step 4: Learn something from the penguins. Mr. Popper’s Penguins is about as predictable as it gets, which would have been fine if Jim Carrey has been more on top of his game. He really needed to tap into his good old zaniness as Popper. There are a few choice moments – especially with the penguins, because let’s face it, you gotta have SOME kind of crazy Carrey comedy with those little cuties – but it wasn’t enough; you really crave his facial contortions and wacky impressions. Maybe Carrey is getting tired of all that. I hope not.

Step 5: Let the penguins work their magic. The rest of the cast all do a serviceable job supporting the main players. And yes, I’m talking about the Gentoos. They completely steal the show. What is about penguins that make us all go “Awww”? From the incredible documentary The March of the Penguins to the animated Happy Feet, these lovable creatures are simply cinematic naturals. Mr. Popper’s Penguins uses the real deal for most of the movie (and they DON’T TALK), with only a few up close “reaction” shots generated by computer animation. The winged actors are incredibly smart and as long as you had some kind of fish on your person, you could get them to do just about anything. Apparently, Carrey bonded with his co-stars by literally having fish in his socks. He admits in the press notes he has an obsession with penguins, saying it is physically impossible not to be happy around them. “They are like puppies, times ten!” I wholeheartedly concur. All in all, Mr. Popper’s Penguins will certainly delight the kiddies, but their parents might wish for a tad more Carrey irreverence.


How to Watch: “The Tooth Fairy”

Step 1: Why fix it if it ain’t broke? Disney likes their formulas, and they’ve found one with Dwayne Johnson and family flicks. His latest, Tooth Fairy, shows all the familiar patterns – or, as I like to call it, The Tooth Fairy’s Game Plan to Race to Witch Mountain.

Step 2: Go down the list: Johnson as another hard-ass, selfish bachelor who isn’t very good with kids. Check. Johnson as another jock. Check. Johnson as a fish out of water when kid stuff is forced on him. Check. Johnson as the Tooth Fairy. OK, that’s something new. He plays Derek, a once great NHL hockey player, who now skates in the minors because of an old injury. That’s OK, because his moniker “The Tooth Fairy” has made him famous because he can knock guys’ teeth out with one body slam. He also likes to regularly crush the dreams of the youngsters who look up to him. As a final straw, he tells the 5-year-old daughter of his girlfriend (Ashley Judd), after she loses a tooth, that there is no Tooth Fairy.  Soon, he gets a summons to report to Fairyland, where he is promptly sentenced to two weeks as a REAL Tooth Fairy, courtesy of the grand fairy duchess (Julie Andrews). His case worker Tracy (Stephen Merchant) tries to explain the rules and regs of Tooth Fairy-ing, but Derek has a hard time catching on – until he doesn’t. Johnson learns another lesson about following one’s dreams and the importance of family. Check.

Step 3:
Johnson as the new W.C. Fields. Check. The actor proves he can do this curmudgeon character with his eyes closed, so why stretch himself when he knows the films will make loads of money? Except, if Tooth Fairy fails this time, he might want to rethink the strategy. Johnson’s participation doesn’t surprise me, but some of the others do, including British writer/actor Stephen Merchant, who created the British version of The Office with his good friend Ricky Gervais. The tall, skinny, bug-eyed  funnyman is an obvious Laurel to The Rock’s buffed-out Hardy, but one wonders why Merchant signed on. Actually, I’m glad he did because he’s definitely one of the bright spots. As is the uncredited Billy Crystal, as the “Q”-type fairy with all the gadgets to make collecting teeth as easy as possible. Nice to see his old mug again. And indie darling Ashley Judd wasted playing a loving single mom in a Disney family comedy? She must have needed the money.

Level of difficulty in watching Tooth Fairy: Eh – but I’m the adult. Even if it’s the same old, same old, kids will probably get a kick out of seeing The Rock with fairy wings and in a pink tutu.

How to Interview: Ashley Tisdale

Aliens in the AtticLike a big bean-bag doll. Seriously, that’s how Ashley Tisdale describes the little CGI aliens she had to work with making her latest family comedy, Aliens in the Attic, in which she plays one of a group of kids, who must protect their vacation home from invading aliens . I got a chance to speak Ms. Tisdale recently, as she discusses said aliens, her childhood fears in her house – and her guilty pleasures.

Step 1: Play with a CGI “stuffy”
“We didn’t really use a lot of green screen but we did have a green “stuffy.” It’s a kind of bean-bag doll. That was the alien, and they would just move it around and we’d react to that [laughs]. I was only there five weeks because I had to come back to do High School Musical 3. And since [the other kids] were all younger and not allowed to work, I’d be shooting at 2 am and having to react by looking at the crew members. I was a little nervous about that.”

Step 2: Fear not the attic – but the BASEMENT
“I had a basement cause I grew up in New Jersey, and I thought Chuckie was down there. My friend at 7-years-old says, ‘Let’s watch Child’s Play.’ I thought it was a doll movie, a good movie. So after that I was scared, so scared and I wouldn’t go down there because I thought maybe he was roaming around down there.”

Aliens in the AtticStep 3: Get the boyfriend stamp of approval from Dad
“Oh yeah, I can’t date anyone unless I bring them home to meet my dad first. Very overprotective. But I like that part in the movie in which Bethany kind sees her boyfriend’s true colors and sticks up for her family. I always want my parents to be proud of me and approve of who I’m with.”

Step 4: Go ahead and have it all
“I’m pretty creative and kind of a workaholic, so I like to do a lot of different things. I want a really long career, acting and my music. And also producing. I have many ideas that I’d like to watch, and not necessarily what I’d want to be in. So I get together with my producing partner and we get to create it and it’s a different experience for me. Right now I have a reality show that E! is looking at. I can’t really talk about it yet since it’s not picked up, but it’s fun. I’m not in it though.”

Step 5: Don’t take yourself too seriously
“I laugh at myself all time; I don’t sweat the small stuff. But I am very driven, ever since a young age. I credit my mother for that. I’ve always looked up to her because she’s very confident and has always taught me to believe. Don’t quit and go for your dreams. With hard work and drive, you can definitely get there. Even though I’ve been doing this for awhile, with the TV shows and High School Musical, I still feel like my career has just begun. I want to keep learning and honing my craft.

Aliens in the AtticStep 6: But take her music seriously. Please.
“The balancing [between music and acting] isn’t the challenge, but the challenge is people taking me seriously for my music. They are two separate things to me. I’ve grown up with musical theater my whole life so music has always been something that’s part of my life. My second album Guilty Pleasures, which comes out July 28, is who I am. There’s a lot of break up songs [laughs]. But I’m hoping I’ll be YOUR guilty pleasure.” Wink, wink.

Step 7: HER guilty pleasures
“Alien movies [natch] and coffee. Oh, and I like designer handbags, too.

Step 8: OK, we’ll bite … What alien movies?
Close Encounters, E.T. Oh, Signs, too. That one freaked me out.

Oh hell yeah, totally agree. Signs completely creeped me out, but I don’t think Aliens in the Attic is going to elicit the same response.

How to Watch: “G-Force”

00020885Step 1: Blame it on Alvin and the Chipmunks. Cute, furry – and talking – CGI rodents are apparently now the rage, much to the chagrin of anyone over 12.

Step 2: Be a little embarrassed about having to take your kids to a movie about guinea pigs who not only talk but have also been trained in FBI special ops. There’s Darwin (voiced by Sam Rockwell), the fearless leader; Blaster (voiced by Tracy Morgan), the demolitions expert; Juarez (voiced by Penelope Cruz), the tough lone female; and Speckles (voiced by Nicolas Cage), a mole and the team’s computer whiz. They’ve been trained by human Ben (Zack Galifianakis), a sort of mad scientist-type employed by the FBI. Except the Bureau thinks Ben and his friends are all a joke – until the little rodents prove their worth and save the world. What else?

G-FORCEStep 3: Scratch your head on how G-Force got the cast they got. Penelope Cruz? Nicolas Cage? Sam Rockwell? I suppose I could see Cage and Cruz doing this. Certainly Tracy Morgan. Even Steve Buscemi, who voices a surly hamster. But Sam bloody ROCKWELL? He’s the dude who does cool indie movies like Moon and Choke or high-brow Oscar fare like Frost/Nixon. I just have to wonder what they said to convince him to do this. Maybe he has kids and they begged him to voice a guinea pig. What about Galifianakis, who HAD been gaining some serious comedy cred with his turn in this summer’s surprise hit The Hangover? This might set him back a bit. Oh, who the hell knows. They probably either did it for money or for the children in their lives.

Step 4: Realize this isn’t for you but for the younger set. Most likely G-Force will do for guinea pigs what Beverly Hills Chihuahua did for Chihuahuas. I predict pet stores will run out of furry little fellers, as kids beg their parents to get them one. Even the film addresses this, as two siblings take home the displaced Blaster and Juarez and basically torment them. Parents should advise their children against putting lipstick on their guinea pigs or strapping them to toy cars and shooting them off across the floor. It’s supposed to be funny but looked like animal cruelty to me.

Level of difficulty in watching G-Force: Sigh. For kids, probably pretty easy. For us adults, tortuously laborious.

How to Eat “Meatballs” on “Planet 51”

Animation is king! Here are two trailers to upcoming kiddie flicks …

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Sept. 16): A most delicious tale inspired by the beloved children’s book about a town where food falls from the sky like rain. It incorporates the vocal talent of Anna Faris, Bill Hader, Bruce Campbell, Bobb’e J. Thompson, Andy Samberg and more.

And Planet 51 (Nov. 20): A switcheroo about an American astronaut who lands on an alien planet — where little green inhabitants live in white-picket fence world of the 1950s Ozzie and Harriet — and scares the bejeezus out the THEM. The vocal talent in this one includes Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Biel, Seann William Scott, Justin Long, Gary Oldman and more.

I’m leaning towards Planet 51. You?

How to Watch: “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs”

Ice Age: Dawn of the DinosaursStep 1: Thaw out in Jurassic Park with the fun-lovin’ Ice Age gang – and throw all logic out the window.

Step 2: Seriously, just go with it. No, it doesn’t make sense that dinosaurs would live in a tropical world underneath the Ice Age above, but that’s the premise of this third Ice Age installment, so we’ll accept it because we like hanging with Manny (voiced by Ray Romano), Sid (voiced by John Leguizamo) and Diego (voiced by Denis Leary). Manny is a nervous father-to-be this time around, as his wholly mammoth wife Ellie (voiced by Queen Latifah) is expecting, which sort of alienates him from both  Diego and Sid. Diego feels like it might be time for him to leave this happy nest and go be a lone tiger again, while Sid wants a family of his own. And so when Sid falls through a hole in the ice into an underground cavern, he finds and steals three baby T-Rex eggs, setting off a chain of events that leads the Ice Age into the Jurassic Period.

Step 3: Watch them tap into their inner prehistoric animals once again. There’s an ease to Romano, Leguizamo and Leary’s banter, with Latifah continuing to add a nice dimension. Also along for the ride is Simon Pegg as Buck, a eye-patch wearing weasel who fell from the world above a long time ago and hunts dinosaurs with a fierce determination. Oh, and Scrat, the bucktoothed squirrel, finds a rival for his acorn –  the lovely female Scratte, a squirrel who can fly. Nothing good can come of this.

Step 4: Ask yourself: Is third time a charm? Not really. Much like the Shrek franchise, neither this Ice Age sequel or its predecessor has been able to match the charm and humor of the original, yet they continue to make money therefore spawning more sequels. Honestly, I’m not sure where they’d go with a fourth installment. Maybe something to do with Manny and Ellie’s kid? Or maybe running into the human baby from the original, now all grown up and ready to hunt them? I just think stretching it anymore might ruin the magic forever.

Level of difficulty in watching Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs: Pretty easy. Kids will love it, but the Ice Age franchise is starting to spread itself a little thin in the story department.

How to Teach “Old Dogs” New Tricks

I can’t believe the Old Dogs in this scenario is Robin Williams and John Travolta. Here’s the trailer to their new Disney movie, in which Robin plays an longtime bachelor, who, under strange circumstances, finds out he has 7-year-old twins he now has to take care of. And so he ropes in his friend and business partner, played by Travolta, to help and the two find their lives turned upside down.

Ah, looks like good times were had by all. But wait, that’s not the only dad Robin Williams is going to play on the big screen. He is also a father to a horrible teenage son in the upcoming quirky indie film World’s Greatest Dad, which did well at the Sundance Film Festival, according to Cinematical. Check out this red band trailer (WARNING: Red Band means there are a few F bombs and naughty sex talk in this one.):

I think that’s the kid from the Spy Kid movies, all grows up and talking about vaginas! Wow, that scares me a little.

How to Watch: “Imagine That”

Step 1: Imagine That this innocuous family comedy could very well bring a smile to a little girl’s face, especially if she sees it with her daddy.

Step 2: Now imagine Eddie Murphy tapping into his inner little girl. He plays Evan Danielson, a workaholic financial advisor whose career is sliding a little. When his daughter, Olivia (Yara Shahidi), starts predicting solid stock tips – told to her by the queen and princesses who live in her make-believe world called Goo-Gaa – Evan decides he might just have to use his imagination, too. So he rubs Olivia’s security blanket on his face; dances and sings in public to ward off dragons or gain entrance to a castle; and runs around his kitchen like its a hidden cave. At first, Olivia loves the extra attention she is finally getting from her father – until she realizes it isn’t really about her but about her Goo-Gaa and getting Dad that big promotion. That is, if he can outperform a rival, Johnny Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church), who uses mystical Native American mumbo jumbo to get his point across. But Evan soon realizes how much actual fun he has been having with Olivia – and gets his priorities straight.

Step 3: Imagine Murphy wanting to recapture some of that Daddy Day Care success. Channeling Bill Cosby, Murphy definitely has a way with kids. Imagine That comes to life the minute Evan starts acting silly, singing in a falsetto voice about Soba the dragon, eating ketchup and mustard pancakes or teaching his daughter how to sing The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.” Shahidi, in her first feature film, also holds her own with her funnyman co-star and charms her way into your heart. Church, however, overdoes it. His pretentious Native American speak is not only annoying to Evan, but to us as well.

Step 4: And finally imagine Murphy wanting his big-opening status back. Sorry, Eddie, probably not this time. I mean, I sort of like it when he downplays the obnoxiousness, as he did in last summer’s Meet Dave. He is actually quite sweet in Imagine That, making that fat-suited Eddie Murphy a faint memory. But alas, some people may not agree with me. That’s OK.

Level of difficulty in watching Imagine That: Moderately easy. It should be enjoyed by the young and the young at heart.

How to Watch: “Night at the Museum 2”

Night at the Museum: Battle of the SmithsonianStep 1: Think about how cool it would be if the exhibits in a museum actually came to life. I do, and I’m pretty sure Night at the Museum writers Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant do, too.

Step 2: Then applaud Tom and Bob (or is it Bob Ben?) for getting it right a second time with NATM: Battle of the Smithsonian, albeit on a much grander scale this time around.

Step 3: Realize it might also be almost TOO grand. There’s a lot going on in this sequel. Not only does Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) have his old friends at the New York Natural History Museum — whom he has somewhat neglected since finally making a name for himself with his inventions — he also gets new friends when he has to go rescue the New York gang from the Smithsonian archives in Washington D.C. There’s Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams), General Custer (Bill Hader), as well as the giant statue of Abraham Lincoln, Rodan’s The Thinker sculpture, and several miniature bobble-headed Albert Einsteins, among others. Larry meets up with some bad historical guys, too, namely Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), the meaner elder brother of Akmenrah (Rami Malek), who has “come BACK to LIFE!” to take over the world with his Army of the Underworld and elicits the help of Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Napoleon (Alain Chabat) and Al Capone (Jon Bernthal) to do it. Suffice to say, Larry has his hands full in this one.

Step 4: Be thankful it’s Stiller’s hands that are full. Much more confident this time around, his Larry knows how to handle the situation and not freak out like he did in the first NATM. He is the straight man that keeps the whole thing together, as the madness around him escalates. Except he still freaks out, a little. Adams has got “moxie” as Earhart, standing around with her hands on her hips, ready to take on the world. Except that spunk gets a little annoying. Hader as Custer is what the writers call the “anti-Teddy Roosevelt,” who has got the balls but does things all wrong. Except when he gets it right every once in awhile.

Step 5: Also be grateful Hank Azaria is in the movie. The guy is so underrated in my opinion. He not only plays the lispy Egyptian bully with aplomb, he also voices Abraham Lincoln (“Blah, blah, blah … I NEVER LIE!”) and The Thinker (“Look at the gun show over here. Boom! Boom! Firepower!”). Azaria most definitely provides the most laughs. Returnees Robin Williams, Steve Coogan and Owen Wilson don’t do a bad job, either. Oh, and see if you can guess who sings sweetly as the Cherubs.

Step 6: Refer to Step 1. Bringing museum artifacts, paintings, sculptures and exhibits to life is genius — and director Shawn Levy, taking the NATM reins for a second time, certainly has a handle on visualizing it. I think my favorite part in this sequel is seeing famous museum pieces — such as The Thinker, Dega’s ballerina sculpture and that great Life magazine V-Day photo of the American sailor kissing the nurse on the streets of New York — spring to life. And the whole sequence in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum is way cool. Kids are going to eat it up.

Level of difficulty in watching Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian: Relatively easy. Maybe not as fresh and unique as the first NATM, the sequel has enough laugh-out-loud moments to enjoy.