MOVIE REVIEW: Dolittle

Rating: PG / Runtime: 1 hour and 41 minutes

If someone had told me beforehand that this movie was essentially a kid-friendly combination of the Uncharted video game series mixed with “Pirates of the Caribbean”, where the human companions were animals and there’s a lot less combat, my teenagers wouldn’t have had to beg me to take them. That is to say, it turns out “Dolittle”, Robert Downey Jr.’s first post-MCU headliner, is actually a lot of fun and right in this adventure lover’s wheelhouse.

As much as “Dolittle” follows the titular doctor (Downey Jr.), who is a sort of super veterinarian that can communicate with animals by speaking their language, it equally is about a young boy named Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) who stumbles upon Dolittle’s overgrown estate in need of emergency animal medical support. Stubbins was out hunting with his uncle and cousin, and we quickly learn that he’s much too soft-hearted toward the cute woodland critters, which eventually makes it easy for he and Dr. Dolittle to relate. Dolittle has been a recluse up until their meeting, avoiding contact with humanity as he endlessly grieves over the loss of his wife. From there a young emissary of the Queen of England arrives, beckoning him to Buckingham Palace. The Queen has fallen ill and needs Dolittle’s help. Up until this point, the story feels pretty generic and uninteresting, but upon learning that the necessary cure lies in a magical fruit on a mythical undiscovered island that Dolittle’s wife died while searching for, the excitement rises considerably. 

The bulk of the film then plays out like a traditional adventure tale, with some highlights being a thrilling chase at-sea, the infiltration of an island of outlaws, and an ever-present over-the-top villainous rival determined to stop Dolittle and steal his praise. Along the way Dolittle must overcome his fear of opening up to others while Stubbins gets many (often amusing) life-changing lessons and discovers a passion for working with the animals. And it’s understandable why, because Dolittle’s animal friends are silly, sweet, and always entertaining.  Voicework by some big Hollywood stars is mostly a delight, with Kumail Nanjiani’s Plimpton the Emu, John Cena’s Yoshi the Polar Bear, and Ralph Fiennes’ Barry the Tiger being particular standouts. 

That’s not to say that everything comes up roses in this newest adaptation of the classic American children’s book. Downey Jr. chooses to use an odd, distracting accent and plays the character with an eccentricity that reminds of Captain Jack Sparrow. The animal banter is mostly great but there are definitely some dud jokes, too. And the CGI leaves a lot to be desired, getting increasingly more noticeably bad the more action that is taking place.

Still, even though it may not be particularly memorable, “Dolittle” ends up being a hilarious and wholesome mythical adventure that is fun for the entire family. Talking animals will always be a hit with kids and the added elements of high seas adventure and pirate-like action combined with the search for a magical item will keep teens and adults interested as well. Throw in some lovely relationship-building and a big dose of hope, and you’ve got a great option for a weekend family theater outing.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Last Christmas

Kate (Emilia Clarke) is in a bad place. Stuck in a rut of bad decision-making, she is quickly losing the patience of her friends, family, and boss Santa (Michelle Yeoh) with every new selfish choice. But this film is a romantic comedy, set at Christmastime no less, and a change of heart is precisely what the doctor ordered. Right in the midst of some of her darkest days, Kate meets Tom (Henry Golding), a charming and adventurous wanderer who has thrown off the shackles of cell phone addiction and thus begins a new relationship that will challenge her and force her to confront the person she has become.

It shouldn’t be surprising that “Last Christmas” follows a pretty formulaic trajectory. What really sets apart films in this genre isn’t the plot, but rather the writing and cast chemistry, and it just so happens that those are two things “Last Christmas” does very well. Director Paul Feig is known for his comedies, and this may be the best of the bunch. Writers Emma Thompson, Bryony Kimmings, and Greg Wise infuse the film with some wonderfully hilarious dialogue throughout, while also touching on modern-day issues in London such as the effects of Brexit on immigrants and homelessness. Words are only as good as the actors delivering them, of course, and the entire cast of “Last Christmas” is up to the task. Clarke and Golding share a touching, slow-building romantic relationship that feels natural and is easy to root for, but the comedic chemistry between Clarke and Yeoh is definitely a highlight as well. Nearly every interaction between the two led to audience laughter, as did much of Emma Thompson’s work as Petra, Kate’s Yugoslavian mother. 

Another strength of the film is its use of music. Kate is a singer and superfan of George Michael, whose songs appear frequently, mixed in among various recognizable Christmas tunes. It makes for an incredibly enjoyable soundtrack that had audience members quietly singing along throughout. And while not as often-used as the songs, Theodore Shapiro’s score is aptly moving in the film’s most tender moments.

Despite its endearing story, there is one major event that occurs in “Last Christmas” which will be extremely divisive and could single-handedly break the film entirely for some moviegoers. If you’re able to roll with it, though, the film offers a charming and inspirational tale of learning to love others above self, and how that can change lives for the better.

“Last Christmas” is the kind of movie that will put a smile on your face, and it rings in the holiday season early this fall providing one of the sweetest rom-coms in years. Its brisk pacing, balance of emotionally touching moments with gut-busting comedy, fantastic cast chemistry, and sing-along worthy soundtrack make for a fun Christmas film that will be in many a family’s holiday movie rotation for years to come.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 160: Missing Link

LAIKA Studios is back with another beautifully animated and charming tale, this time a globe-trotting adventure with an unlikely trio of characters exploring not only mythical lands but themes such as identity and colonialism, as well. This film also gives us gut-busting laughs and endearing moments, plenty of material to discuss for this week’s conversation.

Missing Link Review – 0:02:31

The Connecting Point – 0:55:48


Follow & Subscribe


Join the Facebook Discussion Group

Download This Episode


Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards:

or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

MOVIE REVIEW: Missing Link

Coming this week, MISSING LINK is my favorite animated film of 2019 thus far & will be covered on Episode 160 of the podcast. Fans of Laika Studios should ignore any lack of excitement from the trailers. It’s great family fun & exciting to see an original animated story so well told.

 


 

Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Bringing the members of an estranged family together for a series of dysfunctional hijinx is nothing new in film, and writer/director Noah Baumbach (Mistress America, Frances Ha) has built himself quite a filmography while dealing from this particular creative deck. He feels like a throwback to early Woody Allen, creating characters with quick wit and sharp tongues; riffing off each other’s eccentricities in ways both comical and sincere. Also akin to Allen, the majority of Baumbach’s stories utilize understated New York City locales as backdrop, eschewing grandiose settings for simple brownstones and corner eateries that lend authenticity to his ensemble.

In his latest work, The Meyerowitz Stories, Baumbach explores similar themes to his exceptional 2005 film, The Squid and the Whale. Family dynamics as related to divorce, bitterness, and regret swirl throughout Baumbach’s tight script; his characters learning and growing as each suppressed resentment is gradually exposed.

The patriarch of the Meyerowitz family is Harold (Dustin Hoffman), a man who leads life with equal parts cynicism and narcissism, both traits having an adverse effect on his relationships with his three grown children. From behind a grizzled old man beard, Hoffman plays Harold with a wry sense of entitlement. A once semi-successful artist, he is continuously drawn to the allure of unearned accolades and notoriety. Hoffman is doing his best work in years, and this role is tailor made for his matter of fact style.

Harold’s three children, Danny (Adam Sandler), Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), and Matthew (Ben Stiller), have journeyed to New York to celebrate Harold’s upcoming show at a local college. Clearly the first time the siblings have been together in some time, and exacerbated by Harold’s quirky sensibilities, it’s only a matter of time before the animosities each child carries from their upbringing bubble up like a spring loaded, therapist’s couch confessional.  Sibling rivalry and a strong sense of being unfairly judged for their decisions in life by their father has led all three kids to a place of resentment, in varying parts towards Harold and each other.

Elizabeth Marvel is given the least to do amongst the three kids, but her sour, frumpy Jean manages to steal every scene she’s in. It’s unfortunate Baumbach doesn’t do a lot with Jean, and her point of view suffers as a result. She comes off as someone who just accepts her lot in life, with little control over her destiny nor motivation to challenge it. Ben Stiller is also up to task, but his Matthew doesn’t feel like a stretch for him as an actor. There are stark similarities between this role and his turn as Chas Tenenbaum in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Matthew is driven by unreasonable expectations for success, but his insecurities dictate that he will alienate those around him with an incessant need to prove his worth.

The true standout here is Adam Sandler. Every once in a while, Sandler will dabble in a dramatic turn and remind us that there is some talent to be found there. I really wish he would stick with roles such as this and stop with the lazy “vacation with my bros” comedy crap that has devalued his stock as an actor over the years. Sandler’s Danny is a nuanced, three dimensional character filled with hurt and resentment, and Sandler digs deep in a lot of scenes to bring forth those emotions. He even gets to champion the daddy/daughter dynamic missing between Harold/Jean, in scenes with his daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten), who is starting her freshman year in college. There is a particular scene between the two which involves a piano riff and a made up song about how they need each other and how they will always be there. It’s a moving moment, and a testament to how Danny is determined not to become his own father.

Baumbach adds a few bit characters as window dressing, most notably Maureen (Emma Thompson) as Harold’s current wife; a frazzled, inebriated eccentric with colored glasses and frumpy smocks who looks like she spent a lot of time getting into the 60’s.

One of the best things about Baumbach is how he manages to infuse drama with hilarious, natural comedy. Whenever the story takes a serious tone, there is always a sharp line such as, “Maureen, get your granddaughter more shark.” It reminds us that real life is going on around these people, and their struggles in life are balanced by moments that are meant to be laughed at. Even though we know there are no people in this world that hold conversations quite as naturally as those in the film, it’s that balance that gives Baumbach’s work authenticity.

One gripe I have with Baumbach is that his film’s aren’t very diverse. I’m not that guy that gets caught up in checking boxes, but if New York City is your muse, it would be nice to occasionally see a person of color do something more than serve your food at a cafe. A lot of his films feel culled from the world of HBO’s Girls (a show I adored, for the record); a show that was also criticized for its lack of diversity.

If you find yourself drawn to Baumbach’s other work, specifically The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha, and Mistress America, I think you’ll find a lot to like in The Meyerowitz Stories.  This is a film that aligns neatly within the filmmaker’s wheelhouse, with the same biting wit and interpersonal drama that drives most of his narratives. The calculated risk of allowing Adam Sandler to carry the torch pays off in a big way. Baumbach typically won’t leave his characters in a bad place at the end of his films, and nothing changes here. If you tend to like satisfying resolutions, not to insinuate that all of the past damage is undone, but each character finding themselves no worse for the wear, you can rest assured the Meyerowitz’s will find themselves in a similar spot in the end. – By Steve Clifton

Rating: