Norm of the North

Posted on January 14, 2016 at 5:46 pm

Copyright 2016 Lionsgate
Copyright 2016 Lionsgate

“Norm of the North” is not awful, but it is also not special, not new, not funny, and not that interesting. The script is over-plotted but under-written, with confusing detours and uneven tone. It’s as though instead of coming up with an actual story the writers tried to assemble a formula from successful animated films — Cute sidekicks! Potty humor! Evil developers who want to despoil pristine environments! Random musical number! Wise advisor! A hero who is a clumsy outsider with a lot of heart! And a rescue! However, it also includes weirdly off-key or unresolved elements. There are actual stories to be told about the damage to the arctic environment and the potential for kids to make a difference in real life, but we’re going with condo developers and corrupt officials as the bad guys? And the issue of hunting other animal characters for food is clumsily handled. Kids may be reassured that Norm does not kill the sea lions, but he is not a vegetarian.

There are a couple of funny lines, but most of the wit of the movie is at the level of “I put the soul in winter soulstice!” “Who needs a bear with too much care and not enough scare?” Plus macho posturing, extended peeing into a fish tank, and a Nancy Pelosi “joke.”

Norm (Rob Schneider, who is quite good in his best-ever movie role) is a kind-hearted polar bear from the arctic who does not fit in because he is a poor hunter and not like the others. Both of these qualities relate to his ability to understand and speak “human” — meaning English. His wise and loving grandfather (Colm Meaney) has the same gift.

Norm’s arctic home is a popular site for tourists, and the animals appreciate tourism as it helps keep their home safe. If tourists want to come see the natural environment, then it will have to be kept as it is. But there is a developer named Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong) and we know he’s a bad guy because he has a dinky ponytail and yells a lot — and, of course, because he is a developer, who wants to build luxury homes for one-percenters on the polar icecap. Norm stows away on Mr. Greene’s company plane to come to the big city and stop the development. Accompanying him are three little arctic lemmings, whose primary characteristics are un-crushable resilience and public bodily functions.

Mr. Greene has a head of marketing, a single mom named Vera (Heather Graham). She is not entirely sure that the development is a good idea, but she desperately wants her daughter to get into a private school for gifted children, and Mr. Greene, as a graduate of the school, has promised an all-important recommendation if the development deal goes through. (The fact that the school produced a nutty crook like Mr. Greene does not cause her to question the school’s indispensability for her daughter.) It is a shame to hear the wonderful actress Salome Jens very briefly as a corrupt official, just there to look witchy and be bribed into approving the development.

It does not make much sense to try to explain the concept of distracting the populace with entertainment “bread and circuses” to children when the movie is a poor example of exactly that idea.

Parents should know that this film includes action-style violence and peril, a character captured and caged, chase scenes, theme of environmental destruction, corruption, mild language, and extended bodily function humor.

Family discussion: Why did Vera go along with Mr. Greene’s plan? What is the best way to protect the Arctic? How did the lemmings help Norm?

If you like this, try: the “Madagascar” movies and “Surf’s Up”

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Animation Comedy Environment/Green Talking animals

The Surprisingly Tender Story of An Actor’s Kindness to the Critic Who Hated Hated Hated Hated His Movie

Posted on October 9, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Chaz Ebert wrote to Rob Schneider to ask him about a story that was mentioned in many of the tributes to her late husband, Roger Ebert.  Roger loathed Schneider’s movie “Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo.”  He memorably wrote that the film “is aggressively bad, as if it wants to cause suffering to the audience. The best thing about it is that it runs for only 75 minutes…..Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.”  That last comment inspired the title of one of Ebert’s collections of bad reviews.

Chaz asked Schneider some questions, including:  “When Roger was in the hospital you sent a beautiful selection of flowers with a sweet note. That melted our hearts. Roger talked about that for a long time. Not just the flowers, but the very act, and what one act of kindness can do to transform human relationships. He said it gave him a glimpse into what kind of person you were and it was humbling. What was your thinking behind sending the flowers and the get well wishes?”

Schneider’s response was thoughtful, personal, and very moving.  He said that Ebert’s review was “mean but fair.”  And that it made him reconsider some of his choices. ” s a Zen Buddhist I know there is no such thing as a one-sided coin. Every coin has two sides and it is our choice to decide if we only want to focus on one side or the other. Or we can choose to see that both sides are inseparable and part of the same coin. The other side for me was finally being free of the studio system and all its constraints and expectations….When Mr. Ebert’s book, “Your Movie Sucks!” came out I admit to feeling sore about it. You have to build a somewhat thick body armor to survive in show business. But the strange thing was, when I heard Roger was sick I felt terrible and my heart ached. Whatever bad feelings that were leftover melted away and all I remembered was thinking about how much I really admired and loved Roger Ebert and his work and how grateful I felt to him for introducing me to countless films from all over the world that became such an important part of my life and of my work.”

Most important, he said,

The day I heard Roger was sick, I decided that I would not be the person who thanked or remembered what someone meant to them only after they were gone. I asked the florist to make the most beautiful arrangement possible and I wrote a note to Roger from a real fan and grateful admirer and I think most importantly for him, a fellow lover of world cinema in all it’s varieties. I think I said simply, “Roger, thank you for sharing your love of cinema with all of us. I hope you are back doing what you love most soon, watching movies from your La-Z-Boy chair! Signed, Rob Schneider, your least favorite movie star.” And I am so very glad I did.

….

There is never only light or never only dark. But light-dark and dark light. These shades are the universe’s way of challenging us and testing us in this great game of life. Where hopefully we come to realize we are each a part of the whole, and the whole a part of each of us. In the big bang 14.5 billion years ago in some very real way, we were there.

That’s pretty cool I think. Maybe someone could make a movie about that.

If only.

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Critics

Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Viewers will know exactly what they’re in for when the opening credits reveal the production company: Happy Madison. Anyone who recognizes that name as a tribute to two Adam Sandler movies will enjoy this genial but raunchy story of a hapless fish-tank cleaner who becomes an even more hapless “man-whore.” If that term makes you laugh, even after you’ve already heard it many times, this is your kind of movie.

The plot is “American Gigolo” crossed with “Risky Business” — a suave gigolo (Oded Fahr of “The Mummy”) has to go out of town, and lets Deuce stay in his glamorous apartment so he can care for his fish. When Deuce accidentally trashes the place, he must find a way to raise $6000 to get it back to normal before the owner returns. With the help of a friendly procurer, he gets set up on dates for pay with a succession of unhappy, self-conscious women (including Marlo Thomas, and what is that girl doing in this movie?). Meanwhile, a detective is pursuing him and Deuce begins to fall in love with a client who does not know that his date with her was paid for by her friends.

My biggest complaint about Adam Sandler has always been that he is lazy. His movies read like they were ad-libbed during an all-night beer bash. This time, he has managed to make an Adam Sandler movie without actually having to appear in it — that position is occupied by his fellow Saturday Night Live alum Rob Schneider, who co-wrote the script. The best that can be said is that it is in Sandler’s “Wedding Singer” tradition, with many references that will hit home for those who grew up in the 80’s and a sweet romance to lend an innocent quality to the potty humor and gimp jokes. The courtroom finale may be dumb and hackneyed, but audiences may find their “ewwwwwws” turning to “awwwwws” as Deuce’s clients each testify that all he did was make them feel good about themselves. Deuce is even able to make the detective feel better.

Parents should know that the movie’s R rating is well-deserved, with strong language and much of the humor coming from sexual references and situations, including the accidental viewing of a porno movie by a little girl, the detective’s exposing himself and complaining about his ability to satisfy his wife, a used condom, a body cavity search, etc. The movie also makes a lot of jokes at the expense of people with disabilities, including narcolepsy, Tourette’s syndrome, and blindness.

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Comedy Romance
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