Dolittle

Dolittle

By: Kevin Jordan

Do you smell something?

It seems almost unfair to write about Dolittle. Why on Earth would a movie with a $175 million budget and starring Robert Downey Jr. be opening in the armpit of the Hollywood calendar known as January? All the kids are back in school, almost everyone blew all of their spending money in December, and those that had any cash left lost it on the Patriots or Saints. Or both. Predicting Dolittle to be a disaster is like shooting fish in a barrel…if the fish were already dead.

The first thing you need to know is your kids will almost certainly like Dolittle. It has talking animals. It has fart jokes. It has a cute little girl playing a princess and a young boy who wants to learn to talk to the animals like Dr. Dolittle. Kids aren’t jaded like we adults and their taste in movies starts and stops at loud noises, bright colors, and bodily noises. My son thought it was hilarious. All of this is why I dreaded giving my initial opinion after the film.

When the agency representative asked what I thought, I pointed at my son and said “ask him.” He gave his opinion – he thought it was very funny – and then she turned back to me. I was trying hard not to jade my son, but he has heard me talking about movies before. After trying to get out of it again (my exact words were “I don’t wanna”), I stood there silently, staring at her, trying to think of something cryptic that he would not understand, but she would. Finally, it hit me. “Well, now I know why this movie opened in January.” A huge smile appeared on her face and she enthusiastically agreed. I know my son has a very good idea of what I really thought, but I think we pulled it off. At least, that is what I am telling myself.

I need to go see a man about a dragon.

(SPOILERS COMING, so do not let your kids read this.)

The movie starts off bad right away – with opening narration. This being the start of a new year, this is a good time to remind you that opening narration is a huge red flag. Typically, narration is the result of a test audience being hopelessly confused by the movie. Also typically, it is an extremely lazy way to convey a bunch of exposition. Exposition that most likely was originally filmed, but the resulting footage sucked. In almost all cases, narration is completely pointless. Dolittle is a perfect example of at least two of these, especially the pointless part (a new writer and director were brought in to redo a bunch of footage, which resulted in twenty-one days of reshoots). We are told that Dolitttle (Robert Downey Jr.) can talk to animals, that his wife died while out on an adventure, and that Dolittle closed off his veterinarian business after her death. The movie then proceeds to show us these things, or describe them to us through character dialogue, when Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) summons Dolittle to the castle to evaluate the sick Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley).

After examining the queen, Dolittle determines that the only thing that can cure the queen (she has been poisoned) is the fruit of the mythical Eden Tree. Dr. Mudfly (Michael Sheen) scoffs at this notion, but Dolittle sets off to find the unfindable tree. Not wanting Dolittle to succeed, Lord Badgley sends Mudfly and a battalion of soldiers to chase Dolittle down and kill him. No, this movie does not have a twist and does not care about keeping any surprises for later. This is but one of many likely reasons why test audiences hated this film.

Another reason they hated the film is probably the bizarre voice Downey affected as Dolittle. If you have seen the previews, you heard Downey’s subdued, husky, thick British accent that prevented him from emoting or even raising his voice. At times, it even seemed as if it weren’t his voice at all or that he had to rerecord all of his lines and they were dubbed over the film. We know he can do better because Sherlock Holmes exists, so there is no good explanation for this terrible decision.

Your accent sucks and I’m a dog.

Then, there were the animals and their dialogue. Despite this film taking place in Victorian England, the animals are speaking in a variety of accents, all delivering modern phrases and modern slang. It was incredibly off-putting and completely out of place. For adults that is. This is a movie aimed squarely at kids’ faces and ear holes and few children are going to wonder why nineteenth-century, British animals are calling each other bro.

At least the voice actors didn’t have to show their faces (and there were quite a few well-known names). Voicing talking animals gets them mostly off the hook, allowing them to give absurd performances that kind of fit. Sheen and Antonio Banderas get no such reprieve. All I could think while watching the two of them ham it up was how sad it was to watch really good actors vomit out performances more suited to bad ABC Family movies. At least the budget for this film indicates they were paid well for temporarily setting their souls on fire.

I cannot stress enough that this movie is for kids and kids alone. There are a lot of reasons why this movie will almost assuredly tank at the box office, but the lack of appeal to adults may be the biggest one. Again, test audiences hated this film. The crazy thing is that the film is a toilet-clogger, even after extensive rewrites and reshoots. At one point, Dolittle performs a colon-cleansing on a dragon by pulling a company’s worth of armor and a set of bagpipes out of its ass. Think about that for a minute – they left that part in the movie. At that point, I and the kids were laughing, but for different reasons. They laughed because the dragon farted in Dolittle’s face. I laughed because, yep, January.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back and hope your kids stay innocent for as long as possible.

Passengers

By: Kevin Jordan

Are we there yet?

passengers_poster

The best science fiction usually focuses on a question or topic having to do with psychology or society and dressing it in technology or science and placing it in a fictional world.  District 9 tackled apartheid through the lens of alien refugees living in slums.  Interstellar wondered if humans were capable of saving themselves when staring extinction in the face.  Most recently, Arrival took a look at xenophobia and how fear of the unknown makes people do really stupid things.  This week, Passengers asks what you would do if you accidentally woke up from stasis 30 years into a 120-year flight?  If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know that I have a soft spot for science fiction and this film sat right on that spot.

(I really liked this movie, so I will keep the SPOILERS to a minimum, but there are a couple I cannot avoid.  So, see this movie, then come back.  I’ll wait *wink*.)

That’s the question facing Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) when his stasis pod malfunctions and wakes him up way too early (89 years and 8 months too early).  The ship he is on is carrying 5000 passengers and over 250 crewmembers, all of whom are in stasis for the long journey to a colony planet called Homestead II.  The very first question you will ask as an audience member is: can he go back into stasis?  No, he can’t and the movie explains why (lack of required equipment).  Then, you will ask why they wouldn’t have spares on this trip or the necessary equipment, to which the answer is the pods have never malfunctioned and include multiple redundant failsafes.  Guess who just won the galaxy’s worst lottery?  Also, this movie is taking care of potential plot holes, which I couldn’t be happier about.

Being a mechanic, Jim does exactly what you expect he would do – try to solve the problem.  He tries to fix the pod, rig the pod to restart, access the crew quarters where the crew is (passengers are denied access), look for spares, and look for alternatives.  This goes on for more than a year, during which time he frequents the ship’s bar and talks with the closest thing to a conscious human on the ship – an android bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen).  As his efforts continue to fail, we see him losing hope both mentally and physically and we are laser-focused on that question – if you were alone a ship in space knowing you would die before getting to your destination, what would you do?  Your choices are wake someone else up, commit suicide, or continue living alone with no purpose and limited activities at your disposal (a fun detail they add is that he is the equivalent of economy class, so doesn’t have access to many of the things on the ship), constantly thinking of the other two choices.

It sure looks like he tried everything.

It sure looks like he tried everything.

Since you’ve seen the previews and know Jennifer Lawrence is in this movie, you know what choice he makes.  Like I said, I really liked this movie, but I think there were two missed opportunities in this film.  The first has to do with waking someone up.  During his hopelessness, he stumbles across Aurora Lane’s (Lawrence) pod.  Since you’ve seen Jennifer Lawrence, you know how beautiful she is, especially in this movie as a first-class passenger, so you’ll understand that Jim starts researching her.  Seriously, she is gorgeous in this film; you’d do the same thing.  Anyway, if I could have contributed to this story, I would have had Jim investigating all of the passengers and just zeroing in on Aurora.  And, maybe, in the long version of this story, he does.  If it were me on that ship, that’s what I’d have done in my boredom.  To me, this would have added much more depth to the feelings he developed for her prior to waking her up.  It also would have added some potential fun as he learned about other passengers.

Everything is beautiful in this movie.

Everything is beautiful in this movie.

The thing you need to know about this movie is that the surface story is a romance.  You probably already know this because you’ve seen the trailers.  That being the case, it follows the standard romance formula.  Meeting, getting to know each other, falling in love, break-up, attempt at redemption.  The second missed opportunity happens during the break-up and it’s that the movie doesn’t spend enough time during this phase.  I know that’s also standard romance movie procedure, but this movie’s main premise is delving into the psychology of the situation and this is a fascinating component of this scenario.  (SPOILER) After learning the truth about how she woke up, Aurora is confronted with just as difficult a choice as Jim, but with a bonus choice.  Commit suicide, wake someone else up, spend the rest of her life alone on the ship (she at least has more entertainment choices due to her class), or take Jim back.  Considering that Jim gave her a death sentence by waking her up, you can understand how pissed off she would be at him, but after time, she was going to end up in the same position as him.  How great would it have been to see her struggling with herself as she begun to rationalize Jim’s despair and loneliness as she experienced it herself?

I think she wants to kill you Jim.

I think she wants to kill you Jim.

For as much time as the film spent with Jim, an equal amount of time should have been spent with Aurora.  Instead, the film jumps to the big event that allows Jim the opportunity to redeem himself.  Of course, this being a spaceship movie, and given that the film sprinkles in shots of the ship’s computer depicting more and more ship failures (the movie starts with the ship getting hit by a meteor, which is what led to Jim’s pod malfunction), that event is obviously Jim trying to save the ship from exploding.  Plus, you’ve seen the trailers so you already know they have to deal with the ship failures.  I never said this movie wasn’t predictable.

passengers-redemption

Redemption time.

 

Based on all that, the movie sounds decent at best, but what elevated this movie for me were the stunning visuals of the interior and exterior of the ship and the performances of the three main actors (Laurence Fishburne enters in the third act, playing a crew member).  I liked the story and the first and second acts were done quite well (the third act was a little over-the-top, but still fine).  Pratt did a fantastic job of emoting despair, then emoting the internal torture of his decision before and after waking Aurora.  Lawrence equaled Pratt and more (her reaction to the truth was so perfect it was almost scary) and their chemistry together was amazing.  There’s also an extremely cool and slightly terrifying swimming pool scene.  Put all that together and you’ve got a very good movie that can sit on my spot as long as it wants.

Rating: Worth your money with or without a soft spot.