Mr. Movie

Mr. Movie: ‘Penguins’ a so-so documentary; Breakout the hankies for ‘Breakthrough’

Penguins trailer

Disneynature’s all-new feature film “Penguins” is a coming-of-age story about an Adélie penguin named Steve who joins millions of fellow males in the icy Antarctic spring on a quest to build a suitable nest, find a life partner and start a family.
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Disneynature’s all-new feature film “Penguins” is a coming-of-age story about an Adélie penguin named Steve who joins millions of fellow males in the icy Antarctic spring on a quest to build a suitable nest, find a life partner and start a family.


The penguins in “Penguins” are the Adelie variety. At about 10-pounds they aren’t all that big, or that tall when compared to the gigantic Emperor Penguin. The Emperor runs about 50-pounds and were the subject of their own movie in 2005.

It is a documentary called “March of the Penguins.” Like “Penguins,” it attempts a story. The attempt’s result is a much better, won an Oscar and other awards, and is a more interesting movie.

“Penguins” is directed by Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson. This is Wilson’s first shot at a major motion picture but Fothergill directed the Disney Nature hits “Bears” and “Chimpanzee,” and did a lot of directing for the “Planet Earth” TV series.

Their movie follows the now Disney Nature formula and adds to the nature footage what’s supposed to pass as a plot. Steve is the film’s hero penguin. He is now five and it’s his first year as an adult. When the film opens, Steve is wandering the ice alone and is the last of the Adelies to make it to the mating ground.

Steve — according to the story — is a bit of an oddball. He finally meets the female of his dreams in Adeline and they have two chicks. They mate a bit late so the late-blooming chicks are part of the film’s end crisis.

The two directors and their crews spent a summer in Antarctica shooting video of Adelie penguins. They took the hours and hours of video, waded through it and created a story. David Fowler, who wrote the nature film plots for “Born in China” and “Growing Up Wild,” was tabbed to craft a screenplay.

Ed Helms (“The Hangover,” TV’s “The Office”) tells the story and does a little supposedly humorous dialogue while pretending to be Steve.

The tale they tell is — fortunately — fairly short. It does not, however, manage to stay on course. To make this worth the price of a ticket, they wander about, flitting here and there to drag Steve and Adeline’s 30-minute story out to 76-minutes.

That complaint aside, I must give kudos to Fothergill, Wilson and their crew. The footage is stunning and the editing is masterful. But why a story, and a dumb one at that? Why not just do a documentary about the struggles these poor birds have with procreation?

Oh, wait. “March of the Penguins” already did that. Plus, it was narrated by Morgan Freeman. He could narrate a phone book and it would be a hit with fans of film and with me. “Penguins” is narrated by Helms. He’s not close to a narrator of Freeman’s skill level, and neither he, nor the movie have a prayer of being a hit with me nor the masses.

Plus, “Penguins” doesn’t have a chance of win a best documentary Oscar or any other awards.

▪ Rated G though there are some dramatic sequences that deal with the death of penguins. It’s playing at the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco and Queensgate 12s.

▪ Rating: 2 out of 5

Josh Lucas (left), Chrissy Metz, and Marcel Ruiz in "Breakthrough." Allen Fraser TNS


In January of 2015 John Smith was playing with friends on an icy river near St. Louis. The 14-year old fell through the ice, drowned and was underwater for at least 20-minutes before being brought to the surface.

After over an hour of working on the boy, and with no pulse, doctors pronounced him dead. His mother, Joyce was given access to John’s body. She began praying and the boy’s heart started beating. Credit for his revival was given to Jesus, and to God, and Joyce wrote a book about the incident.

The book evolved into a faith-based, major motion picture.

I don’t review Christian movies very often. Once in awhile one will pique my interest. This one’s interest comes courtesy of Golden Globe nominee Chrissy Metz and basketball star Stephen Curry who is one of the film’s producers.

Metz (TV’s “This is Us”) plays Joyce Smith. She’s joined by Topher Grace (David Duke in “BlacKkKlansman”) and Josh Lucas. Marcel Ruiz plays the boy and Dennis Haysbert — of TV insurance commercial huckster fame — does the doctor who takes on John’s impossible case.

The movie is a complete mess but has two positives. The first is Metz’s performance. She’s absolutely electric and you totally buy that she’s a woman who refuses to take no for an answer — even from God.

The acting of the rest of the cast is just competent though all — including Metz — fall victim to Grant Nieporte’s (“Seven Pounds”) overwrought script. He and director Roxann Dawson (the former “Star Trek: Voyager” actress) turn “Breakthrough” into something that looks more like a Hallmark TV channel movie than a major motion picture.

However, to Dawson and Nieporte’s credit, the depiction of the boy’s death and the Herculean efforts to save his life are traumatic, dramatic and work. Dawson easily puts you in the place of a loved one placed in a position of absolute helplessness. Cries to God come quickly. Very few — the film notes and questions — get answers much less a miracle.

Grab a hanky or two if you go. Though the film doesn’t focus on the questions, those asked — especially when it comes to a faith-based movie — are very profound. That, too, I guess, is a miracle.

▪ Rated PG for mature themes. It’s playing at the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco 12, the AMC Classic Kennewick 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

▪ Rating: 2 out of 5