Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Critical Frog and Me

Rumor has it that I am the parent of a frog.  Not any frog, mind you, but specifically a critical one.  I know this because he blogs under the name of The Critical Frog at thecriticalfrog.blogspot.com.  And because he has a coffee cup from Senor Frog's in Cancun.  Also there's a plastic model of The Visibile Frog complete with little molded organs sitting upon his dresser, which is creepy, especially if you think about waking up in the middle of the night and there's a set of painted frog organs looking back at you in the moonlight streaming through the blinds.

I bring this up not only because The Frog is my own declared progeny, nor because I think he's an insightful writer with a creative use of language and narrative.  I do so because in his latest piece, ("Night at the Museum 3:  Secret of the Tomb," at thecriticalfrog.blogspot.com), he's noted that we agreed to jointly review the aforementioned film because we disagree about the ending.  This was actually his idea, and I think it's kind of cool.  Plus if this works, I can have at least a minimal claim to bask in his aura and hopefully his checkbook) when he's the next Ben Mankiewicz.  

The movie was a project for last Monday afternoon.  The hospital where i work had decided to reward my sleepless nights and lost clothing due to various expectorations with a pair of free movie passes (INVALID FOR 3D OR SPECIAL PRSENTATIONS) for the holidays.  So it was off the the theater we went that afternoon, with plans to follow the film with a trip to Red Robin for burgers and bottomless fries to follow.

(For the record, I've never understood the whole bottomless concept, at least as it pertains to food. If you have bottomless fries, does that mean someone bites them in half to remove the bottom before you get to them? And which side of the fry is the bottom, anyway?  A bottomless cup of coffee would spill out the base of the cup and scald your most tender rwegons.  I do understand the concept of bottomless in terms of liquor licenses and zoning regulations, but that's an entirely different conversation. And yes, I'm a regular Edwin Newman when to comes to language.  This morning I was doing a computer training that said after you interacted with a receptionist, you were "recepted" instead of "received." Drives me crazy.  Also, please use your Oxford commas.)

I don't review movies.  That's clearly The Frog's forte.  So I will try to summarize the plot and our points of contention,  and if my description doesn't make sense please see his take on it because then it most assuredly will.

Night at the Museum 3 is the latest installment of a family-friendly franchise starring Ben Stiller and Robin Williams.  In the first picture, Larry the Security Guy (Stiller) finds that there's a magic Egyptian amulet at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH).  The magic brings the exhibits to life at night, most notably a paraffin Theodore Roosevelt (Williams).  There are laughs and a minor conflict, but all resolves well and everyone dances through the credits. ("Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance!")  NATM 2 takes the same premise to the Smithsonian.  The New York gang goes to DC, a few more things come to life, another minor problem is happily resolved with pleasant laughs, and the party goes on as the credits roll.  Both are perfectly serviceable family moves that I enjoyed, and would be happy to watch again while sitting on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate in my and and a dog somewhere near my feet while the winter wind howls outdoors..

NATM 3 has a slight twist on the theme, in that the magic amulet is running out of power, and the only person who knows how to fix it it the father of the mummy who owns the amulet in New York.  The mummy's father...who is also a mummy...and his Mommy, or mummy, or Mommy mummy...are lying at the British Museum.  So Larry and his reanimated crew take the tablet to London, a few more things wake up, things wake up, they save the amulet, and there are good-natured laughs.  There are some brilliant subtle lines as well, including a discussion regarding the exodus of the Jews from Egypt; as  Larry says to the Pharoah, as memory serves:  "It's a long story.  You wouldn't like it. We get together and talk about it ever year."  (Kind of like the line in the Book of Mormon that "I beleive...that the Garden of Eden is in Jackson County, Missouri, which only makes sense if you're from Kansas City, because they DO.)  There is also Robin Williams' last ad-lib on film; speaking of his love for a model of Sacajawea that shares the night time magic, he notes, "I'm wax, she's polyurethane, but it works."

As a family film, NATM 3 is full of predictable messages about family and friendship, the occasional monkey excretory visual (to make sure we appeal to preteen boys...well, all boys), and a goodly amount of light chuckles to keep the story fun.  It's totally pleasant, reliable entertainment, and a nice way to kill a few hours on a cold winter's afternoon.  I left the theater pleased that I saw it.  Probably not going to invest in the video, but didn't walk out dazed after I did with Avatar,  wondering how I was ever going to get those eighteen hours of my life back.  (What do you mean Avatar ran only three hours?  Are you sure?)

The Frog and I both enjoyed the movie. Where we disagree is in the ending, and here is AN OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT.  Towards the end of the movie, the magic amulet is now back with its owner in London.  And the mummy that was in NYC is now reunited with his family in London.  So the exhibits from NYC who have come to London to help Larry in his quest decide they will leave the amulet in London, giving up their nocturnal existence in order to keep the Pharoah's family together, explaining that they still have value as exhibits helping others to learn.  It's a gentle way to communicate a powerful message about self-sacrifice and the legacy that lives on after us when we leave this word.  And this s where The Frog says the movie should end.

And this is where I disagree, for a few minutes later (three years in movie time), you see where the AMNH is now featuring an exhibit called Treasures of The British Museum.  And...who knew...the magic tablet is back, and not only have our old friends come back to life but they are now joined by those we've come to know from England.  There's a party, and music, and dancing.  Roll credits.

The Frog contends that the movie should have stopped before the last coda.  I think the latter was actually the better ending, simply because the movie was not made for the sake of character or plot, but for us.  NATM 3 is not an art film, nor a tribute to Method Acting.  It's not a novel by Jose Luis Borges or James Joyce.  It's a mass market flick, a paperback to read on the beach.  You've come to like these characters.  You want it to end pleasantly.  You want to think they aren't forever stilled.  And we can still invoke the messages of self-sacrifice, but this time with the promise of a reward at the end. Which is pretty much what most of our world spiritual traditions do.

(I do understand his viewpoint, however.  Some movies...even very good ones...go on too long.  Michael Keaton was remarkable in Birdman, but it ended a minute and a half too late.  I won't disclose the whole story, but once having broken new theatrical ground, there was no reason to open the window and jump. Or fly.  Whichever.)

As I try to break it down, where The Frog and I disagree is not about the ending, but who the ending of a movie is for.  He thinks it's for the characters; I think it's for us.  We have different needs in our real world then they do in theirs, and there's more of us then them. And, as we've learned, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.  Or the one. Even if he's My Very Own Teenage Amphibian.

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