Movie Review: Zookeeper (2011)



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter Z

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

On the final day of April, I’m playing a reverse April Fools prank on you.  After of watching a month of movies considered among the “best films of all time,” I’m finishing with one that is decidedly not. This is partially because movies with Z titles are hard to come by, and partly for reasons outlined below, but mostly because it’s fun to take a break from “Classic Film” from time to time.

TitleZookeeper
Release Date: July 8, 2011
Director: Frank Coraci
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer | Broken Road Productions | Hey Eddie | Happy Madison Productions
Summary/Review:

I’ve been curious about this movie for some time because it was filmed at Franklin Park Zoo in Boston which is walking distance from my house.  I used to go the zoo more frequently when my kids were little and I remember when the center of the zoo was taken over by a massive film set.  I wondered why if they were going to film on a massive set, why didn’t they do it in a studio instead. Having watched the film, very little of the real Franklin Park Zoo is seen in this movie so I wonder this even more now. And all the animals are CGI so it’s not like they needed to be in proximity to real animals.

What I didn’t realize is that they needed proximity to Boston. I’d just assumed that the movie would be about a generic zoo, but in the film it is very much the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston.  In fact, they digitally altered the Boston skyline in some shots to make it appear like the zoo is much closer to downtown.  The protagonist lives in a three decker, there’s a bicycling scene on Boston Common and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, and the denouement of the movie occurs on the Zakim Bridge.  So “yay Boston!,” I guess.

As for the actual story, Kevin James plays Griffin Keyes, the titular zookeeper (I know nothing about James but reading Letterboxd reviews he seems to be a hated figure).  He suffers continued heartbreak when his girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb) rejects his marriage proposal and breaks up with him because she thinks being a zookeeper is a job for losers (which really doesn’t make any sense).  Within in the first ten minutes of the movie it becomes abundantly clear that this is one of those movies where the protagonist will pursue someone who is clearly awful, when his perfect match, zoo veterinarian Kate (Rosario Dawson), is right there. Because Griffin is so hapless, the zoo animals break their code of not talking to humans and offer him advice for wooing Stephanie. Hijinks ensue.

The movie has a subplot where Griffin bonds with a depressed gorilla Bernie (Nick Nolte) and they go out partying at TGI Fridays.  Honestly that part could’ve been spun out into an entire movie and it would’ve been much better than what we got. When he’s not doing pratfalls or acting like an alpha male, James actually has some charms, and Dawson who is usually in much better movies brings some “much better movie” magic to her scenes.  Among the celebrities voicing animals are Sylvester Stallone and Cher as lions and Adam Sandler as a crude capuchin monkey. But overall for a comedy the jokes are just not, you know, funny.

Rating: **

TV Review: This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist (2021)


Title: This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist
Release Date: April 7, 2021
Creator : Colin Barnicle and Nick Barnicle
Director: Colin Barnicle
Episodes: 4
Production Company: TriBeCa Productions
Summary/Review:

I generally avoid True Crime media, but I am borderline obsessed with the theft of 13 works of art from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990.  I’ve read a book about it and listened to a podcast, and now I’ve watched this 4-part Netflix documentary. The documentary does a good job of reiterating the main points of what is known about the crime.  It’s good get the visuals to go with the story, such as diagrams of the museum that show where the thieves operated. And then there’s a mix of archival news footage with present-day interviews with many key figures, from museum guards to the museums director.

While being a very entertaining documentary it’s also highly sensationalist (which naturally adds to the entertainment value).  There’s a lot of building up of potential suspects before revealing that they couldn’t possibly have commited the crime.  The same footage is played over and over again, most hilariously a “dramatic reenactment” of a couple of high school students walking piggy back down Palace Road before the crime. The creators of the film are happy to rely on the false Hollywood image of Boston as a mobster-infested playground of vice. A lot of people commenting on the documentary are loving the Boston accents and characters which really don’t exist in present day Boston. In short, it’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours, but take it with a grain of salt.

My main takeaway from this series is that it is been way too long since I’ve been inside the glorious interiors of the Gardner Museum.  I will prioritize visiting there post-pandemic.  The series also gave us this tweet, which is a work of art of its own:

 

Podcasts of the Week Ending April 24


Afropop Worldwide :: Punk in Africa

Punk is not a genre typically associated with Africa but the music of rage both personal and political has found its niche in countries dealing with imperialism, apartheid, poverty, and political corruption.

Fresh Air ::  The Social Psychologist Who Works To Reduce Harm In Policing

Regulating police behavior rather than focusing on the attitudes of individual police officers is the approach advocated by one researcher.

Radio Boston :: Former Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson Reunites With Birth Mother

A heart-warming story of Tito Jackson, one of my favorite Bostonians, meeting his birth mother for the first time.

What Next :: Fear and Paranoia in American Policing

Police officers are trained to be terrified by everything around them leading to their inscrutable violent actions.

Running Tally of Podcast of the Week Awards for 2021

Podcasts of the Two Weeks Ending March 27


Best of the Left :: Democracy Under Siege

Republicans are attacking the right to vote in order to retain power and maintain white supremacist fascism.

Code Switch :: Lonnie Bunch And The ‘Museum Of No’

An interview with the first Black Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution focusing on his work in bringing the National Museum of African American History and Culture to fruition.

Have You Heard? ::  What They’ve Lost

Boston Public Schools students talk about their experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic and not being able to attend school in person. Also includes a good discussion of why the focus on “learning loss” only adds to the trauma rather than addressing students’ real problems.

Hub History :: Disaster at Bussey Bridge

134 years ago, corporate malfeasance lead to the death and dismemberment of several railway commuters at a site not far from where I live today.

Planet Money :: The Even More Minimum Wage

The history of the tipped minimum wage and how it maintains inequality. I was particularly stunned by how tipped employment is often the first jobs for young women and that it conditions them to accept sexual harassment in order to get tips.

Seizing Freedom :: Interview: Rhiannon Giddens

For the second POTW post in a row I’ve found a fascinating podcast about the banjo in Black music, this time an interview with the contemporary folk musician Rhiannon Giddens.

This American Life :: The Campus Tour Has Been Cancelled

Many colleges and universities have suspended using the SATs and other standardized tests for admissions because of the COVID pandemic. Tests like these have a gatekeeping effect and this podcast explores how their absence can open up college opportunities for poor, BIPOC, and first-generation applicants.

Throughline :: Chaos

Stories of humanity and chaos, including the real life The Lord of the Flies.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: 20th Century Fox

The composition and history of the deceptively simple 20th Century Fox fanfare.

The War on Cars :: Jamelle Bouie Has Seen the Future of Transportation

Journalist Jamelle Bouie talks about his experience using an electric bike in Charlottesville, VA and the future of transportation and housing in the United States.

Running Tally of Podcast of the Week Awards for 2021

Book Reviews: The Boston Massacre: A Family History by Serena Zabin


Author: Serena Zabin
Title: The Boston Massacre: A Family History
Narrator: Andrea Gallo
Publication Info: Recorded Books, 2020
Summary/Review:

The Boston Massacre is seen as a precipitating event of the American Revolution, but at the time, no one knew the revolution was coming.  People made the incident represent their political ideologies, whether it was Paul Revere depicting the British army  as butchers, or John Adams defending the troops in court.

To provide new perspectives and context to the Boston Massacre, Zabin performs a family approach to the history.  Soldiers assigned to Boston in 1768 often travelled with their family, wives and children who were derisively called “camp followers.” Other soldiers married local women.  The Massachusetts women who married into the military were criticized, but Zabin also notes that many of them were still considered upstanding members of society during the revolution.

The presence of British troops in the town’s streets caused tension as Bostonians were not used to being stopped at checkpoints. Zabin writes that using troops to quell civil disorder was common in the British empire and lead to multiple Boston Massacre-type incidents, even in London, in the previous decades. The arrival of a large number of men in a small town also created another conflict in that soldiers would take on jobs in an already tight labor market.  On the other hand, soldiers rented rooms and bought goods providing needed income for local landlords and retailers.  Some soldiers grew to have neighborly relations with the Bostonians they lived among.

Zabin concludes the family analogy with the idea that the Revolution was a divorce.  The strong family ties between Britain and her colonies were severed rather abruptly in the crises that would occur in the coming years.  This work is an excellent approach to understanding the meaning of the Boston Massacre beyond just a marker on the way to revolution.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending February 6


Politically Re-Active :: Nikki Giovanni

An interview with the legendary poet Nikki Giovanni.  If you listen to only one podcast this week, make it this one

Hub History :: Literal Nazis

Before and during World War II, a group called the Christian Front operated in Boston and carried out anti-Semitic violence in the city.  While I’m not particularly surprised by this dark stain on Boston’s history, I nevertheless had never heard of these Nazis operating in the city..

Throughline :: What Happened After Civilization Collapsed

A history of the ancient Bronze Age and what caused those civilizations to collapse, and what we can learn from that today.

Running Tally of Podcast of the Week Awards for 2021

Book Review: Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter by Kerri K. Greenidge


Author: Kerri K. Greenidge
Title: Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter
Publication Info: Liveright (2019) 
Summary/Review:

William Monroe Trotter is remembered in Boston in the name of a public elementary school but his life, work, and legacy are otherwise look.  Kerri Greenidge’s biography is a great introduction to the life of the Boston Civil Rights leader and activist who was most active during the 1890s to the 1920s.

Trotter was born into a prosperous family, the son of a decorated Civil War veteran, and held the position of Recorder of Deeds in the Grover Cleveland administration. Trotter grew up in the Hyde Park, then a predominately white suburb of Boston, and studied at Harvard University where he became the first Black man awarded with a Phi Beta Kappa key.  Despite his elite background, Trotter as an activist would stand up for poorer and darker-skinned Blacks who were overlooked by other prominent Black leaders of the time. Much of his career was defined in opposition to Booker T. Washington’s accommodationist strategies and the influence of his Tuskegee Institute.

Trotter’s accomplishments include publishing The Guardian newspaper, which he set up to carry on the legacy of Boston abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator, which became one of the most influential Black newspapers in the early 20th century. Working with W.E.B. Dubois and others, Trotter participated in the Niagara Movement which lead to the establishment of the NAACP.  He did not think the NAACP was radical enough, though, and objected to the prominence of white people in the leadership, so instead ended up forming the National Equal Rights League (NERL) in 1908, which failed to gain the support and membership of its rival.

On political issues, Trotter was adamant that Black voters remain independent and not align themselves. In 1912, Woodrow Wilson won the Presidency with the help of Black voters who swung the vote of Massachusetts and other states. After inauguration, Wilson caved to Southern whites and segregated Federal offices.  Trotter lead protests against Wilson and had heated face-to-face meetings with the President which earned him a measure of fame in the Black community. Trotter also lead protests against the racist film The Birth of a Nation in 1915, which while they failed to stop the screenings of the movie, did energize the Boston Black activist community.

Trotter’s latter years saw him fall into a steep personal and financial decline.  Perhaps his fade from prominence contributed to why he was not well known after his death.  But Greenidge argues that Trotter was the link in radical Black activism for liberation between Frederick Douglass and Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.  I’m glad we have this biography to learn about this overlooked Black radical in Boston and American history.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Book Review: Entrepreneurs : the Boston business community, 1700-1850edited by Conrad Edick Wright and Katheryn P. Viens


Author: Conrad Edick Wright and Katheryn P. Viens, editors
Title: Entrepreneurs : the Boston business community, 1700-1850
Publication Info: Boston : Massachusetts Historical Society : Distributed by Northeastern University Press, 1997
Summary/Review:

This book is a collection of historical essays through the Massachusetts Historical Society about business in Boston in the 18th and 19th centuries.  I read this book with my co-workers as a way of understanding the people who created many of the materials held in our archival repository. The collection is hit or miss with some essays being really insightful and others being really boring.  Topics range from histories of women and Black people in business in Boston to the innovation of marine insurance, partnerships, and trusts in Boston.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Movie Review: The Out of Towners (1970)


Title: The Out of Towners 
Release Date: May 28, 1970
Director: Arthur Hiller
Production Company: Jalem Productions
Summary/Review:

I don’t know where I got the idea that The Out-of-Towners was a comedy classic, but I guess I figured the combination of Jack Lemmon and Neil Simon would be good for a few laughs.  It turns out the movie offers very few laughs indeed.  Lemmon plays George Kellerman, a businessman from Ohio who travels to New York City with his much put-upon wife Gwen (Sandy Dennis) in order to conduct an interview for a prestigious job. Naturally, every thing that can go wrong goes wrong including a delayed flight that is rerouted to Boston, a crowded train to New York, the inability to get a meal anywhere, losing their hotel room, being robbed, and then abducted, and even getting caught up in an anti-Cuban protest.

There are a few good moments. I particularly like when Gwen and George celebrate finding half-a-box of Cracker Jack to eat for breakfast. The topical references – sanitation and transit strikes, Cuban hijackings – make it a good time capsule for 1970. The movie was also filmed on location in a lot of places in New York and Boston, so I really enjoyed seeing what places looked like 50 years ago.

The main problem with this movie is that George and Gwen aren’t very likable.  Lemmon and Dennis are so talented that I was never totally able to hate them, but I also wasn’t really on their side.  The running gag with George creating an Arya Stark-like list of people he is going to sue is just one of the many things that are plain not funny.  My sense is the New Yorker Neil Simon created his stereotypes of what an awful pair of out-of-towners from the midwest are like without considering that the protagonists are someone you should actually want to root for.  This movie, like the latter-day comedy Quick Change, falls into the “New York is Awful” genre, but I couldn’t help thinking that at the end of the movie when George and Gwen decide to (spoiler) stay in Ohio, that it is New York City that dodged a bullet.

Rating: **

Podcasts of the Two Weeks Ending August 15


I subscribe to too many podcasts while simultaneously having less time to listen to them. Forgive the interlude as I catch you up on two weeks of podcasts.

Brattle Film Podcast :: Behind the Scenes on Boston Movies

The Brattle Theatre in Cambridge had a great series on Boston Movies and all four podcasts are worth listening to, but I particularly liked this final podcast where they interview on-set dresser Adam Roffman about the behind-the-scenes production of movies in Boston and how they’ve changed over time.

Fresh Air :: Jeffrey Toobin On The ‘Tragedy’ Of The Mueller Report

How the Democrats were out-maneuvered by the Trump administration allowing him to get away with obstruction of justice.

Radiolab :: Uncounted

An episode on voting rights focuses on the District of Columbia’s non-voting delegate to Congress and the movement to lower the voting age to 16.

This American Life :: Nice White Parents

A public middle school in Brooklyn with a predominately non-white student body deals with an unexpected influx of white students and the effects that of white parents involvement in the school operations.  This is the first episode of Chana Joffe-Walt’s series called Nice White Parents that is both fascinating in its exploration of the changes at one school over time and cringe-inducing by the careless and clueless behavior of white parents (and the school districts who cater to their interests).  I particularly like that Joffe-Walt asks tough questions and doesn’t let people get away without answering them.

Have You Heard :: Pandemics Pods: Parents, Privilege, Power, and Politics

Speaking of Nice White Parents, you may have heard of the latest trend of “pandemic pods” where parents pool together funds to hire a teacher or tutor to educate a small group of students at home instead of returning to school during the Covid-19 pandemic. This podcast explains the devastating effects this latest form of “white flight” will have and how it opens the doors to the worst offerings of disaster capitalists.

99% Invisible :: Policing the Open Road

A century ago, the rise of the automobile as a predominant form of transportation led to an increase of policing to enforce road rules. The changes lead to a vast increase in ordinary peoples’ interaction with the police, increased police power and professionalization, and even the loss of Constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizures.

Throughline :: Reframing History: The Litter Myth

In the 1950s, industry leaders organized to create Keep America Beautiful that produced public service announcements against littering. The seemingly benign ads had the effect of transferring responsibility for the environment from industries that made disposable single-use packaging to the personal responsibility of consumers. This conflict in how to deal with environmental issues persists to this day, and corporations still rely on “greenwashing” to make them look environmentally responsible.

Code Switch :: Kamala, Joe, And The Fissures In The Base

If you listen to pundits, and the Democrats 2020 presidential candidate, you might come to believe that Black Americans are a monolithic voting bloc.  This myth is dispelled in Code Switch where the diversity of opinions and conflicts even within Black families over politics are strong.

Decoder Ring :: Mystery of the Mullet

The mullet hairstyle, short in front and long in back, is worn by a diversity of people ranging from macho men in rural communities to lesbian women, from hockey players to heavy metal heads. But the Oxford English Dictionary traces the use of the term “mullet” only to 1994, surprisingly late for a hairstyle identified with the 1980s.  Willa Paskin investigates this linguistic mystery.  Personally, I never heard the term mullet until the late 1990s and had heard them called short-longs prior to mullet gaining popularity.


RUNNING TALLY OF PODCAST OF THE WEEK APPEARANCES