Dolittle (2020) – A Movie Review

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Both of my kids were very excited to see this latest iteration of Dr. Dolittle, so I took them on my day off. I’d heard some negative reviews which gave me trepidation, but, honestly, how bad could it be? It stars Robert Downey, Jr., after all. If nothing else, at least I’d get to enjoy him.

Well, let’s be clear–my kids loved it. That’s all that really matters in a children’s movie, right? And, to be fair, the computer animation is very, very good. There’s never a moment when some sort of animated creature isn’t on the screen, and, for the most part, they all look great. Sure, there are moments when they appear particularly unfettered by gravity or … reality, but that’s to be expected in CGI films like this.

Furthermore, there are some very big, fun names in Dolittle. John Cena, Rami Malek, Emma Thompson, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Ralph Fiennes, Craig Robinson, and even Selena Gomez lend their voice talents to the numerous creatures throughout the film. Each of them portrays a very distinct personality that my kids had no trouble deciphering.

There are some impressive live-action actors in the movie as well, namely Antonio Banderas and Michael Sheen.

And then, of course, there’s Robert Downey, Jr. We love RBJ as Tony Stark, obviously, but let’s not forget that he has several other notable roles, nominations, and awards under his belt.

Dolittle sadly features a decidedly disconnected Robert Downey, Jr. I mean that quite literally. There’s something very weird about his voice in this movie. First of all, it just doesn’t sound like him. I don’t mean just that he’s doing some kind of strange accent (he is), but his voice is virtually unrecognizable. Additionally, it’s hard to both hear and understand him. His voice doesn’t seem to exist in the actual environment. It’s almost as though they took a sound booth performance, laid it over the track, but then forgot to mix it in with the background sounds. It doesn’t feel organic to the scenery. It feels … disconnected. Does that make sense?

His body language is also uncharacteristic. He’s very subdued and almost … inanimate. They also chose strange moments to film him with his back to the camera as he spoke. Nothing about this performance seemed typical of Robert Downey, Jr. at all, and that’s unfortunate.

Finally, I can honestly say I’ve never seen an ending quite like the one featured in Dolittle. I’m not implying it’s a good ending, a logical ending, or even a tasteful ending, but it is certainly original.

Truthfully, though, my opinion doesn’t really matter. My kids loved it, it’s a movie for kids, so there you have it.

 

Iron Man 2 – A Movie Review

Interestingly enough, I believe Iron Man is one of those comic book characters that actually translates better on film.  Let’s face it: no matter how great the artist, Iron Man is a hero we want to see blazing through the sky, shooting rays from his hands, and just being generally awesome in live-action.  I think that’s (one of the reasons) why the first Iron Man was so successful.

I’m happy to say that in nearly every conceivable way, Iron Man 2 is just as good as the original if not a tad better.

Let’s get the bad right out of the way.  Certain aspects of the story in Iron Man 2 … well, they were a little clichéd and more than a little fuzzy.  The parts concerning fathers and sons I got; the parts concerning Stark’s new power source and how he discovered it … not so much.  And we have a lot of iron men battling Iron Man, which sort of felt like a retread from the first film and something I hope we’ve seen the last of.

Okay, let’s talk about the good!  First of all, it is undeniably a fact that Sam Rockwell took a great movie and made it better.  I actually couldn’t wait for him to return to the screen during this movie, which says something considering that he played an opportunistic, annoying jerk.  His Justin Hammer was absolutely a blast to watch.  He even outdid the always-entertaining Robert Downey, Jr., whose Tony Stark was not all that different from Justin Hammer in a lot of ways.  For some reason, though, Tony comes off as the cool kid and Hammer comes off as the annoying bottom-feeder.  These two actors were phenomenal to watch.

Mickey Rourke was also amazing, but for the completely opposite reason.  As extravagant and bombastic as Downey and Rockwell were, Rourke was subdued.  His villain, Ivan Vanko, could have been a joke.  A man with daddy-issues tied to the Stark family who uses Stark technology to wage war against Iron Man.  Instead, Rourke took him and made him his own—Rourke made him scary and real.  Of all the characters, Vanko was the one I believed could actually exist, and that’s because they got a top-notch actor to play him.  I loved every scene Vanko had except for at the end of the film when they ruined him just like they did Jeff Bridges in the first Iron Man.  But man, when we first see Vanko’s gear at the road race … that’s the stuff of cinematic legend.

I’d also like to mention that Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts came off as far more likable in the sequel.  I actually found myself rooting for her this time around, and I think that’s because they gave her a meatier role.  Don Cheadle’s James Rhodes also had charm, as did Sam Jackson as Nick Fury and Gary Shandling as Senator Stern.  In fact, this was a stellar cast who brought real charisma to their characters from top to bottom, making Iron Man 2 a fun film to watch.

And, of course, the special effects couldn’t have been done any better.  I even took note that the score was appealing which usually only happens for me with James Horner, John Williams, or Danny Elfman.

I really enjoyed Jon Favreau’s direction.  He seems to understand how to let his actors play to their strengths while keeping the action tight and the shots dynamic.  Iron Man 2 was actually pretty funny in a lot of ways, which makes sense considering Favreau’s background, but it felt purely organic to the characters and not as though this was a comedy masquerading as an action film.  And as much as I love The Dark Knight, I’m okay with a super hero movie having a lighter tone and giving us something to cheer about.  By the way, I would have loved to have seen Favreau directing Downey and Rourke in the same scene.  I can’t imagine two more different men.

So while the story left me scratching my head at some times, the sheer charisma of nearly every actor in this movie, as well as its action, sense of fun, and appealing direction made it a great ride.

P.S.  If you haven’t seen the movie yet, make sure you sit through the credits.  It gives a big hint as to the next Marvel film to be released.

Tropic Thunder – A Movie Review

There’s no doubt in my mind that Tom Cruise made this movie.  I’m no Cruise apologist, but he was absolutely hilarious and nearly unrecognizable as a fat, balding, foul-mouthed movie executive.

With that being said, Tropic Thunder was really very funny.  I’m not sure it’s as good as many make it out to be, but its star-power alone (most of whom brazenly goof on themselves) guarantees entertainment. 

If you’re not familiar with the plot, Ben Stiller plays a Tom Cruise-ish action star hoping to revive his career in a movie based upon a book called Tropic Thunder, written by Nick Nolte’s character, a solider who supposedly helped rescue his POW friends.  Robert Downey, Jr., plays an Oscar-winning Australian who undergoes surgery in order to play a black solider.  Jack Black plays a Chris Farley (or Jack Black) style of actor who’s made his living on fart jokes.  Matthew McConaughey plays Stiller’s agent, and he, like Cruise, gives an unusual and therefore appreciated performance.  Finally, Steve Coogan plays the director of this movie-within-a-movie.

With all the self-obsessed actors <ahem!> acting up, Nolte’s character suggests Coogan drops them into the jungle for real in order to get honest emotions.  Before long, things go awry and Stiller’s character is taken prisoner by a drug cartel.  The other actors now must decide if they head for home or launch a daring rescue operation, just like the movie they were previously making.

While I love Ben Stiller, every character he plays is essentially the same.  Jack Black, too, suffers largely from this dilemma.  Downey, Jr., as a black man got old after a while, but I believe this was actually done on purpose focusing upon method actors’ inability to reclaim their own persona.  Nick Nolte was funny, but I’m fairly certain it wasn’t on purpose.  I was glad to see McConaughey playing a role that didn’t involve a romantic comedy, and Steve Coogan’s performance, while short, was typically wonderful.  As I said, though, the surprising scene-stealer was far and way Tom Cruise.

Tropic Thunder was funny, entertaining, and fast-paced, but it wasn’t horribly original and the acting, other than Cruise and Downey, Jr., wasn’t anything you haven’t seen before from the movie’s stars.