Movies like “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” aren’t necessarily made for critics, who are frequently presumed to have it in for live-action family films, with their primary colors and jokey, obvious set-ups for the lowest common denominator. And director Mark Waters’ film, starring Jim Carrey as a realtor who inherits a half dozen penguins and finds his swank New York penthouse apartment turned into a raucous, chilly wonderland, is certainly not a subtle thing. But it is sweet, and has a heart, and it also benefits in comparison to many movies of its ilk by the use of actual real, live animals rather than talking critters or overly slick CGI creations.

Mr. Poppers Penguins

Based on the children’s book of the same name, the film centers on divorced dad Thomas Popper (Carrey), who is at first understandably exasperated by the sudden arrival of these curious creatures, but then slowly starts to warm to them — especially when they eventually lay three eggs. Thomas becomes obsessed with saving the last of the eggs, and frets over whether to donate the penguins to a zoo, in the process also rekindling his relationship with his ex-wife, Amanda (Carla Gugino). Carrey has a nice rapport with the animals, and there’s buoyant charm aplenty here, especially for the under-12 set and parents sympathetic to or in touch with that special sense of wonderment.

“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” comes to DVD presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, on a dual layer disc with an English language 5.1 Dolby digital audio track, and optional English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles. Director Waters is joined on a feature-length audio commentary track by editor Bruce Green and visual effects supervisor Richard Hollander, where they share a nice collection of production reminiscences. Other supplemental bonus features include two deleted scenes with optional commentary from the same group, the film’s trailer and a six-minute animated short, “Nimrod & Stinky’s Antarctic Adventure,” that expands upon the lives of the penguins, post-narrative. There’s also an amusing two-minute blooper reel, in which Carrey shows off a lot of dance moves and a penguin shows off his ability to, umm, achieve distance with his bowel movement. Best, though, is an eight-minute featurette on the live penguins and the extraordinary lengths gone to by the production team to provide a safe and hospitable habitat for them during filming. This meant sets chilled to as low as 30 degrees explain animal trainers/handlers like Scott Drieshman and Larry Madrid, and of course lots of fish. Still, says Gugino, the penguins were “forces of joy.” This wonderful candid footage confirms it, providing a nicely curated look at the sort of unique magic that only movies can conjure up.

Great Directors

Standing unabashedly on the shoulders of giants, director Angela Ismailos pays homage to her favorite filmmakers in the documentary “Great Directors.” The worthy subjects? David Lynch, Richard Linklater, Stephen Frears, Bernardo Bertolucci, Todd Haynes, John Sayles, Ken Loach, Agnes Varda, Catherine Breillat and Liliana Cavani. Intercutting among these filmmakers in a fairly freely associative way, Ismailos explores each director’s personal artistic evolution and, variously, the influence of politics, history, opportunity and peers on their work. The reflections are often revelatory, if in glancing fashion. Sayles discusses his writing-for-hire mindset, and Haynes assays the “culturized, homogenized” version of big screen gayness spawned by the ’90s New Queer cinema, while Linklater ruminates on the flipside benefits to the imagination that a (relative) lack of privilege breeds. While Ismailos lets a couple big opportunities for follow-up go unexplored (Lynch’s interesting assertion, in one of his few self-analytical moments, that “Eraserhead” is his “most spiritual work”), her film is still an inviting illumination on the struggles of being an artist, and attempting to achieve a singular vision in a creative medium that is also, and perhaps forever foremost, an industry.

Lorber Films’ two-disc DVD release is a superb 1.85:1 presentation with a Dolby digital 2.0 surround sound audio track, occasionally subtitled since some of the participants speak French and Italian. The supplemental extras complement this DVD wonderfully, since Ismailos isn’t constrained by the normal running-time parameters of a feature-length film. Ergo, in addition to a little promotional trailer, there is a second disc featuring full, blown-out interview footage with every aforementioned participant. This is a veritable goldmine of thoughtful, free-ranging conversation, and certainly a fascinating ride for committed cinephiles.

The River Why movie

What would happen if “Varsity Blues” lost its focus on football, was relocated to Oregon and instead cross-pollinated with “A River Runs Through It”? Well, you’d get something like “The River Why,” an achingly earnest coming-of-age adaptation about Gus Orviston (Zach Gilford), an outdoor and fishing enthusiast who leaves home to try to escape the shadow of his famous fly-fishing/author father, Henry (William Hurt). Taking up in a secluded cabin by the edge of a river, Gus fishes and meets a whimsical string of strangers, eventually starting up a successful consulting business informed by his fish-whispering, one-with-nature inclinations. He also meets and pines for headstrong nature activist Eddy (Amber Heard), a kindred spirit.

The film’s emotional blow-ups are risible in their overwritten formality, and the plucky mandolin flavorings of Austin Wintory’s score don’t help much convey unobtrusive sensitivity. Gilford is encouraged to underscore Gus’ jittery nervousness around Eddy, and ergo his performance becomes telegraphed and problematic. Still, there are far worse things to lionize than nature, so “The River Why” may earn a sympathetic pass from those who have read the book upon which it is based, as well as fans of similarly inflected tales of familial reconciliation.

Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, “The River Why” comes to DVD presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles to complement a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track. Along with the movie’s trailer, there are 39 minutes of cast and crew interviews with Heard, Hurt, Gilford, director Matthew Leutwyler, producer Kristi Denton Cohen and others.

The Art of Getting By

A better coming-of-age story arrives in the form of writer-director Gavin Wiesen’s “The Art of Getting By,” starring Freddie Highmore and Emma Roberts. The former stars as George Zinavoy, a disaffected, trench-coated, artistically minded high school senior suffering from a decided lack of motivation. Almost in spite of himself, he trips and stumbles his way into a relationship with Sally Howe (Roberts), a girl a bit above his station. For whatever reason put off by her sexual forthrightness, however, George withdraws, leaving the romantic path clear for a mentor and recent graduate (Michael Angarano) to swoop in and seal the deal with Sally. Or does he?

The performances here are nice and engaging, emblematic of the sorts of contradictions raging inside adolescents. Sally, however, is egregiously underscripted — a mere functional prop in George’s story of self-actualization. “Like Crazy” is the much better, older (twentysomething) version of this same sort of story, but there’s still a nice vibe of warmth coming off of this picture. Just ignore the ending.

“The Art of Getting By” comes to DVD housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, and includes an engaging and personally candid commentary track from Wiesen, as well as the movie’s trailer and a small handful of brief, disposable on-set and character-based featurettes.


Based on historical events, “Alleged” is a feel-good festival film, through and through. Set in 1925 in a small Tennessee town, the movie unfolds against the backdrop of the landmark “Scopes Monkey Trial.” Young reporter Charles Anderson (Nathan West), engaged to Rose (Ashley Johnson), works at the same newspaper his late father founded. When legal adversaries William Jennings Bryan (Fred Thompson) and Clarence Darrow (Brian Dennehy) lock horns, Charles finds himself swept up in the ensuing media circus, and torn between adhering to his journalistic integrity and impressing his colorful new mentor, “Baltimore Sun” editor H. L. Mencken (Colm Meaney).

The Scopes trial is of course an important legal case, and this movie in some ways offers up a glossy simplification of it. Certain story strands (like the inclusion of Rose) are entirely unnecessary, or certainly much less interesting than the robust embodiments of the more well known figures. But the performances here are solid and the drama fairly well sketched, so any sort of agreeably passable spoonful-of-sugar approach to history like this is in sum a far much better thing than not. “Alleged” comes to DVD in a regular plastic Amaray case, presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track. There are, unfortunately, no supplemental features.

The Perfect Gift

Hey, remember “American Idol” winner Ruben Studdard? Well he certainly hopes that you do, seeing as how he stars in “The Perfect Gift,” a here-come-the-inlaws holiday flick in which nice-guy teacher Michael Harris (Studdard) has to cope with the unannounced arrival of the overbearing parents of his wife Sandra (Golden Brooks). The film itself isn’t much to write home about — a collection of platitudes and wan comedy, with lots of the color red — but in addition to a pair of featurettes and a photo gallery, Image Entertainment’s 1.78:1 widescreen DVD release also includes a second disc, a bonus CD soundtrack, that will fill your house (or favorite digital music device) with plenty of holiday cheer.

“Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Space Adventure” provides a new, full-length intergalactic adventure that takes Mickey and pals Minnie, Donald Duck, Goofy and Daisy into outer space on a wild search for treasure. Geared for kids five years old and younger, the movie — a spinoff of the Disney Channel series of the same name — takes pre-schoolers to the moon, Mars and even the rings of Saturn. Along the way they get help and learn the value of cooperation from friendly space aliens, but also contend with Space Pirate Pete, a sneaky guy with designs on beating the gang to the treasure and keeping it all for himself. Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case in turn stored in a cardboard slipcover and presented in 1.78:1 widescreen enhanced for 16×9 televisions, “Space Adventure” comes with a bonus episode of “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” entitled “Goofy’s Thinking Cap,” as well as a second disc allowing families to download and store a digital copy of the program.

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Space Adventure

Written by: Brent Simon

By Brent Simon

A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International, Newsweek Japan, Magill's Cinema Annual, and many other outlets. He cannot abide a world without U2 and tacos.

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