Movies: 'Green Lantern,' 'Tree of Life' & 'Mr. Popper's Penguins'
Following are Susan Granger's review of the latest movies in area theaters:
During a lengthy prologue, an unseen narrator explains that Emerald Energy is Will Power, the strongest force in the universe. The Green Lantern Corps is an elite, intergalactic federation that polices 3,600 sectors under the command of an ancient race of Yoda-like immortals, called Guardians, residing on the planet Oa. But now a menace known as Parallax (voiced by Clancy Brown) threatens to destroy the balance of power, exuding the yellow power of fear.
Meanwhile on Earth, cocky hotshot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a reckless, irresponsible test pilot who, having discovered a crashed spaceship with dying alien Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) aboard, is given his chunky Green Ring, along with the Green Lantern that powers it. To the dismay of its leader Thaal Sinestro (Mark Strong), Hal Jordan is the first human chosen for the Green Lantern Corps and, as such, must learn the oath and how to harness the infinite power of his imagination ("Anything I can see in my mind, I can create"), along with combat training by computer-generated Xudarian Tomar-Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush) and huge, ogre-like Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan).
Jordan's digitally-enhanced torso transformation stuns his lifelong friend/lover and fellow test pilot Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) and flight navigator/confidant Tom Kalmaku (Taika Waititi), but not deranged xenobiology professor Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard). Nerdy Hammond has always been belittled by his arrogant father, Sen. Robert Hammond (Tim Robbins) until he's asked by Dr. Amanda Waller (Angela Bassett) to autopsy Abin-Sur's purple-skinned corpse. That changes everything.
Written by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldberg, based on DC comic book characters, and directed by Martin Campbell, it's the Hal Jordan superhero origin story. But, unfortunately, it's just bewildering, color-coordinated splash and flash, meaning dazzling visuals with little substance except: "Alone, we are vulnerable -- united, we are invincible."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Green Lantern" barely ignites a flickering 3. It's a major disappointment, including the so-called Easter Egg (an additional scene) featuring a surprising revelation during the final credits.
"THE TREE OF LIFE"
No stranger to existential, impressionistic cinema, Terrence Malick ("Badlands," "Days of Heaven," "The Thin Red Line," "The New World") recurrently references the Book of Job during this challenging cinematic exploration of the wondrous origin and meaning of life:
"Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth ... When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"
While Malick delves into the celestial creation of the universe and its chaotic evolution, including dinosaurs near a riverbed, his earth-bound narrative, set in 1950s Texas, revolves around stern, pious, domineering Mr. O'Brien (Brad Pitt), his spiritual, nurturing wife (Jessica Chastain) and the bucolic childhood of their three sons, one of whom tragically, inexplicably dies at age 19. Much restless reverie is presented from the viewpoint of Jack (Hunter McCracken), the vulnerable eldest child, who grows up to be a meditative Houston architect (Sean Penn). His sensitive, tormented recollections of fractured family relationships and tension-filled interactions within their ordinary Craftsman-style house and roaming their suburban neighborhood are evocative of a time, a place and an American cultural ethos.
As the intimidating father, Brad Pitt delivers an indelible performance, while Jessica Chastain exudes ethereal compassion. And the young boys (McCracken, Laramie Eppler, Tye Sheridan) exude naturalistic exuberance.
In accordance with its episodic, elliptical structure and minimal snippets of dialogue, its essence is elusive, as befits its enigmatic, poetic style, illuminated by Emmanuel Lubezki's spectacular landscape/cityscape cinematography, Jack Fisk's sprawling production design and Alexandre Desplat's sublime, requiem-filled score. But cosmic comparisons with Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" are inevitable, if only because Malick used Kubrick's special-effects creator Douglas Trumbull as visual consultant.
While his emotionally turbulent glimpses of an intriguing, interconnected afterlife are problematical, working with five different editors, Terrence Malick seems a bit self-indulgent, stretching patience and endurance, reiterating his metaphysical themes with repetitive imagery.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Tree of Life" is an illuminating, insightful 9. It's a stunning, surreal, extraordinary epic that will dazzle yet perhaps dumbfound art-house audiences.
"MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS"
What happened to zany, delightful Jim Carrey who enchanted audiences as "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective?" He's paired with penguins now -- and they steal the show.
Thomas Popper (Carrey) is a hotshot Manhattan broker far more interested in dealing with commercial real estate than his ex-wife Amanda (Carla Gugino), teenage daughter Janie (Madeline Carroll) and young son Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton). Popper's up for a partnership if he can acquire the prestigious Tavern on the Green restaurant in Central Park from its longtime owner, Mrs. Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury).
Meanwhile, Popper receives a posthumous present from his poppa, a peripatetic explorer who sent gifts rather than spending time with his son. It's an insulated wooden crate containing a live Gentoo penguin, followed by an additional passel of waddling penguins who wreak disorderly poop-squirting havoc in the posh duplex that Popper gradually transforms into a wintry wonderland while Charlie Chaplin cavorts on TV. Predictably, as the birds breed and his penguin-pet relationship progresses (utilizing Carrey's clowning propensity for physicality), Popper feels parental guilt, prioritizing reconciling with his family.
Loosely based on the 1938 children's book by Richard and Florence Atwater, it's coyly scripted by Sean Anders, John Morris and Jared Stern and conventionally directed by Mark Walters ("Mean Girls," "Freaky Friday"). Collectively, they're responsible for one of the most annoying and perturbing characters ever invented for the screen: Popper's perky assistant, Pippi (Ophelia Lovibond), who peppers every sentence with alliterative p-words.
There's amusement as the penguins create chaos sliding down the spiral slope at a Guggenheim Museum charity gala and a sad reminiscence for those familiar with the legendary landmark, Tavern on the Green, whose trees were wrapped in twinkling lights. The glorious decor of the glass-enclosed Crystal Room, as pictured, was sold at auction in a bankruptcy wake in December 2009, and the once-glamorous property is now a visitor's information center/gift shop, selling t-shirts and hats.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Mr. Popper's Penguins" is a flimsy, feathered 5, a blandly formulaic, forgettable film.