CGI Animals and a Daffy Robert Downey Jr. Performance Make for a Feather-Brained ‘Dolittle’

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CREDIT: Universal Pictures

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Harry Collett, Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Jim Broadbent, Jessie Buckley, Carmel Laniado, Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, Marion Cotillard, Jason Mantzoukas, Frances de la Tour

Director: Stephen Gaghan

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: PG for Mild Animal Chaos

Release Date: January 17, 2020

It’s not a great sign when my favorite part of a movie is the end credits revealing who all the voice actors were, especially when it’s a movie about talking to animals, because … I love talking to animals! Not necessarily in the Dr. Dolittle sense, but if I did have that ability, I would be happy to use it. As for Robert Downey Jr.’s version of the classic fictional veterinarian, I wouldn’t say that he is unhappy about his interspecies communication abilities, but he is making some odd choices, what with an unplaceable accent while barely opening his mouth whenever he talks to the point that it seems like he is practicing his ventriloquism. Dolittle is a movie whose existence in 2020 I’m having trouble fathoming, but despite that, I can’t say that I doubt Downey’s commitment, however strange it may be.

Anyway, the plot is some fever dream logic-driven concoction about how a reclusive Dr. Dolittle, hiding away in his home following the death of his wife, is summoned to set out on an adventure to find a cure for a deathly ill young Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley). Naturally enough, his animal friends join him to help out, and their presence on this journey just feels too unremarkable. Perhaps that has to do with the reliance on CGI, which renders these creatures less adorable and more just humans with fur or feathers or scales. For the most part, then, Dolittle is a mix of humdrum when it should be goofy and ridiculous when it should be straightforward. Although, there is one part when Dr. Dolittle removes a set of bagpipes from a dragon’s colon, so this endeavor wasn’t a total disappointment.

Dolittle is Recommended If You Have: A Bottomless Appreciation for CGI Animal Hijinx

Grade: 1.5 out of 5 Quacks

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Paddington 2’ Sends Our Very Special Bear to Prison, But Truth, Common Decency, and Marmalade Prevail

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

This review was originally published on News Cult in January 2018.

Starring: Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Hugh Grant, Brendan Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi

Director: Paul King

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: PG for Cheeky Humor and Threats of Violence Appeased by Marmalade

Release Date: January 12, 2018

The first Paddington film was a clear refugee allegory, with the titular “very special bear” (voiced then and now by Ben Whishaw) looking for a new home in England after his home in Peru is destroyed. The coded language about what happens to neighborhoods when bears move in was an obvious stand-in for how some actual Londoners (and other native residents around the globe) feel about the arrival of immigrants. Paddington 2 – in which the raincoat-sporting, marmalade-loving bear is imprisoned for grand theft despite his innocence – is not quite so stark in its messaging. It may have something to say about profiling, though Paddington’s wrongful arrest has more to do with misleading circumstantial evidence moreso than ungenerous assumptions about bearfolk. Still, for a family-friendly flick that distinguishes itself with a gentle touch, it is notable how much it does not hold back from some genuinely unsettling moments.

It all starts out pleasantly enough. Paddington, now living with the Brown family in London, wants to get his Aunt Lucy, the bear who raised him, a truly special present for her 100th birthday. He comes across a rare pop-up book in an antique shop, but it is a bit out of his price range, which is to say, he has no money (unless the Browns have been giving him an allowance). So he sets out to join the workforce, which begins with an abortive stint as a barbershop assistant (make sure to keep what appear to be narrative detours in mind, as these adventures are all intricately and carefully plotted) but then ultimately leads to an entrepreneurial effort as a window-washer. This segment is most memorable for Paddington’s improvising by rubbing the soap against the glass with his bum, which explains why this is rated PG and not G.

It gets a little scary from here on out, though. Considering the genre, there’s no need to worry that it will all descend into a bloodbath, but in the course of the narrative playing out, the danger does feel real, and fitfully intense. The main baddie is Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), a washed-up actor who is now best known for appearing in hacky dog food commercials. He’s the real thief behind the crime Paddington has been charged with, a villain in the Scooby-Doo mold, though a tad more competent: awfully silly but a master of disguise and escape. Grant has a blast with all the dress-up and smoke-and-mirrors.

But the most worrisome threats come during Paddington’s prison stint. He runs afoul of Nuckles (Brendan Gleeson), the inmate assigned to cooking duties, who is legendary for dispensing with those who question his culinary decisions. It really does feel like Paddington is just one false move away from Nuckles beating him to a pulp. This is the neat trick that P2 pulls off. We really do believe that Paddington’s fellow inmates are capable of the crimes they are guilty of (though we would surely never see them happen in a film this), while simultaneously we believe that they would indeed befriend a fundamentally decent, very special bear.

Aesthetically, attention must also be paid to Paddington 2’s artful compositions. Director Paul King was no slouch in the first Paddington, with a whimsical architectural style indebted to Wes Anderson. This time around, he grows even more confident, assembling artfully arranged close-ups: single characters take up the ideal frame space and there is still an impressive amount of background information. London can be harsh, but the care apparent in Paddington 2 makes it much easier to bear.

Paddington 2 is Recommended If You Like: The first Paddington, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Family films that don’t hold back

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Marmalade Sandwiches

 

This Is a Movie Review: The Sense of an Ending

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This review was originally published on News Cult in March 2017.

Starring: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Dockery

Director: Ritesh Batra

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Serious Matters Confronted with British Reservation

Release Date: March 10, 2017 (Limited)

In The Sense of an Ending, Jim Broadbent plays Anthony Webster, the owner of a boutique camera shop who must confront the sins of his past after an old acquaintance passes away and includes him in the will. I would vote for the focus to be waxing nostalgic about vintage Nikons and Kodaks, but alas, the narrative switches back and forth between the present day and Tony’s young adulthood, when he was courting a girl who eventually pursued one of his friends instead. There ends up being a tangle of long-ago secrets that it takes way too long to make sense of.

The film does not engender mystery so much as simmer in its ambiguity. Dinner scenes involve questions being asked and only being answered after staring into space for what feels like an eternity. Is this that famous British reservation, or just tentative filmmaking? If it is the former, the angst of what is left unsaid should be painfully felt, but that is just not the case, at least not until Charlotte Rampling shows up about halfway through. As the present-day version of Tony’s ex-flame, she says more with a piercing glance than the entirety of the flashbacks.

In the midst of sorting out his past, Tony is also on the verge of becoming a grandfather. He accompanies his daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery) to birthing classes, as the father is completely out of the picture. Susie warns Dad not to make any offensive remark about a lesbian couple in the class, as overly cautious children are wont to worry that their parents will go rogue. But Tony not only keep his tongue in check, he becomes fast friends with the couple. And it is not because of any fetishistic desire to diversify his circle. He just happens to be a sociable fellow who likes talking to people. Funny that his daughter doesn’t know that.

Anyway, I would much prefer if The Sense of an Ending were the adventures of Dad and the Lesbians. At least Tony ends up more reliably friendly than he was in his salad days. Perhaps he can take solace in that ending.

The Sense of an Ending is Recommended If You LikeAtonement But Wish It Had Been Difficult to Follow

Grade: 2 out of 5 Angry Letters