Dolittle

If Robert Downey Jr. was concerned about being typecast as Tony Stark following eleven appearances in various Ironman and Avengers roles for Marvel Studios, this film serves as a much needed break, putting a fresh new face on a role Eddie Murphy and Rex Harrison played in 1998 and 1967 respectively.
In fact, Downey was Executive Producer for this production, which may speak to his desire for a different creative challenge. It is the most un-Ironman acting imaginable. The star’s Team Downey production company produced this very expensive film.
Take equal parts of Willy Wonka, Captain Nemo and Captain Jack Sparrow, and you have the look and feel of Doctor John Dolittle as he is very reluctantly pried from his animal sanctuary in search of the “Eden Tree” to cure the ailing Victoria, queen of England. Heartbreak over the death of his beloved wife and partner in adventure has forced him into a life of solitude with only his animal associates to converse with, in true Doctor Dolittle style. No humans allowed, at least not until young Tommy Stubbins breaches the fortified barrier to his compound with the aid of a talking parrot, voiced by Emma Thompson.
There are lots of celebrity voices at work in Dolittle. Downey’s own gruff, half-whispering British accent is complimented by Rami Malek, John Cena, Octavia Spencer, Kumail Nanjiani, Ralph Fiennes and Selena Gomez, each as an animal ranging from Ostrich to Elephant.
At first, Downey’s hooting and barking was somewhat embarrassing. Here we have the great Sherlock Holmes (2009) rolling on the floor and beating his chest in a chess game with a timid gorilla. But soon the animals acquire human voices and the audience is brought into the act.
There are quite a few funny scenes, pratfalls and jokes, some of which will go over the kiddies’ heads the way they did in old Rocky & Bullwinkle episodes. There are also several fairly intense encounters with a fire breathing dragon, attacking bats and a caged tiger that could be a bit much for really young children. At least three villainous scoundrels work hard to prevent Dolittle from succeeding in his quest.
But overall, the fairytale feel to the film, with enough high quality computer generated action to do Disney proud, kept the row of small children in front of us engaged and excitedly laughing at all the right parts.
Make sure you stay for a minute beyond the closing credits for a brief extra scene.

Dolittle (2020) runs 1 hour, 41 minutes and is rated PG.
Should I see this movie?  

Like a Boss

I laughed a few times during this short, contrived comedy, but mostly at bits I’d already seen in the trailer. And the trailer actually managed to stitch the funny lines together better than the resulting film. Most of the modest hilarity was due to executive producer Tiffany Haddish, whose antics on screen are starting to get old. Still, her overly candid, got-attitude style works more often than not and is still preferable to her serious side, as seen in 2019’s The Kitchen.
Here we have Mia and Mel, played by Haddish and Rose Byrne or is it the other way around? It doesn’t matter. They are lifelong entrepreneurial friends who have started a struggling beauty business with two quirky pals. They are $493,000 in debt by the time they are discovered by the exotic Claire Luna, played to a Jessica Rabbit-esque extreme by Salma Hayek, who proudly proclaims, “My head is not little, it’s just that my breasts are humongous.” She proposes bailing the duo out of debt and investing heavily for a controlling interest in their company. After some negotiations she backs off a bit but then savagely begins pitting the two friends against each other in order to stage her takeover.
Perhaps Hayek wanted to play a lead comic role. She has previously starred as herself, or by way of voice-over (Sausage Party) dabbled in comedy when not playing more respectable roles as she did in 2002’s Frida. Otherwise, the now 53-year-old Latin bombshell’s decision to accept this role is a mystery. She not only did a face-plant pratfall, but also shouted her last word in the film, a screaming F-bomb, that was neither necessary nor funny.
And speaking of embarrassing outings in a parody of the beauty industry, when was the last time you saw Phoebe from Friends on screen? Lisa Kudrow appears briefly at the end of the film as Mia and Mel’s new partner. This is either a cameo or favor to someone. Her name is not even included in IMDb’s credits. Anyway, she looks like she just rolled out of bed or forgot to use the products her fictional company is selling.
Like a Boss is an attempt at a female buddy film, a series of comic sketches in a poorly edited sequence lacking effective segues or a compelling through line. That’s the fault of writers. Rose Byrne has done a variety of work, but was better in Bridesmaids. She looks a bit like Kristen Wiig, who would have been a better foil for Haddish, but perhaps was busy or has better script sense.
We chose to see this movie as a break from a series of darkly serious films, and also because it was playing at a time that worked for our schedule. I can’t even recommend waiting for this to show up on TV. Just skip it. Or see the trailer and call it a day.

Like a Boss (2020) runs 1 hour, 23 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie?  

Bombshell

If creepiness were condensation, you’d need an umbrella to view Bombshell, the story of the fall of Fox News’s chief architect Roger Ailes. Wherever you stand on the political spectrum, you’ve been educated on the #MeToo movement during the evening news. This movie portrays one outrageous example of male power used to exploit women in the workplace. Of course, this workplace is known to be a cutthroat environment where integrity can be in sparse supply and good looks get you a seat at the on-air table where we all dine on the latest news and gossip. And in this particular setting you wear shorter skirts or are labeled a man-hater. Or both. “Legs - that’s why the desks are glass.”
Nicole Kidman plays Gretchen Ryan, the Stanford and Oxford educated 1989 Miss America who took a seat on Fox & Friends between Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade, two drunk-uncle-cavemen Fox shills whose banter was frequently inappropriate and often cringe worthy. Carlson seemed to be a willing participant, taking the abuse with a smile, but therein lies one element of the #MeToo phenomenon. Carlson was not willing, and when push came to shove went public with a highly calculated plan to dethrone Roger Ailes for sexual harassment.
Her biggest challenge was the need to not go it alone. Bombshell illustrates the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox news empire’s culture of enmeshed sexual abuse in the hands of men positioned to make or break careers. The film also explores the ripples that extend into the lives and careers of support staff, families and friends of the victims. Lawyer and journalist Megyn Kelly, played astonishingly spot-on by the chameleon-like Charlize Theron, walks us through the offices, building and relationships within Fox headquarters in New York. Her own controversial comments aside, she was front and center as Donald Trump rose to power with an intense creep factor all his own that we witnessed live or on tape during the lead up to the 2016 election. Kelly’s challenge was also one that had great potential to end her career without adequate support from fellow victims.
Along comes Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), the blondest and youngest of them all, an upstart who fashions herself an “evangelical millennial.” Hers is an amalgamated role comprising protected testimony from as many as twenty women. She seems willing to walk over just about anyone in her quest to become on-air talent, jumping into bed with a closeted lesbian/democrat played by Kate McKinnon, her new friend who eventually asks not to be involved with Kayla’s ventures into Roger’s lair. She knows that the repercussions will be immediate and severe.
Ailes is played by a suitably fattened, enraged and slimy John Lithgow. Make-up artists transformed several characters to the point at which it’s unknown whether CGI is at work. Walking the halls and in meetings we run into Greta Van Susteren, Jeanine Pirro, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and even Rudy Guliani. Here, the casting department deserves kudos for finding impersonators to fill these roles, however briefly.
It should be noted that neither Carlson nor Kelly had anything to do with the production of Bombshell (a nice pun). They are prevented by non-disclosures from ever speaking about their lawsuits. In fact Carlson has begun her own organization called Lift Our Voices to address this legal tool’s ability to cover up harassment, thereby perpetuating it.
Malcolm McDowell, age 76, plays Rupert Murdoch, who cuts Ailes a check for $65 million as he is ushered out the door. In contrast, Fox only paid out $50 million to the participants in the lawsuit. Carlson’s take was $20 million. Lachlan and James Murdoch, Rupert’s adult sons appear sporadically throughout the film, seeming more like emotionless henchman than children being groomed. Or perhaps, that’s Rupert’s intent.
Jay Roach wrote, produced and directed Bombshell, but Charlize Theron was also in a producer role. This is her 22nd outing as producer, including Monster and Atomic Blonde.
This wasn’t a noteworthy example of filmmaking, but was interesting, engaging and a nice job of story telling. There’s no real reason to see it in a theater unless you’re eager to see it soon.
Here is an embarrassing video montage of moments from Gretchen’s eight years on Fox & Friends:

Bombshell (2019) runs 1 hour 49 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie?  

1917

We have now seen the best movie of the year.
It is April 6, 1917. The “War to end all wars” will rage on until the Treaty of Versailles is signed on November 11, 1918. Armistice Day commemorated that event until it was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.
This is a uniquely effective, immersive film, due to being filmed in a continuous single camera shot (technically, listed as edited to appear as one shot). Only at one point at about the mid point did the screen go black, allowing for a reset, but then continued on in single camera fashion to the end. The difficulty of doing this, both from a cinematography perspective, performance by the actors, staging, lighting and set construction are hard to conceive, but Sam Mendes pulled it all together in the best war movie since Saving Private Ryan
And perhaps this could have been called Saving Lieutenant Blake.
1917 was filmed in the UK on April 1, 2019. Imagine rehearsing the entire two hour journey of two young British soldiers through battlefields, trenches and bombed out villages while flares and bombs are exploding, planes are circling and crashing, through chase scenes, hand to hand combat, being swept down a raging river over a waterfall, and so much more, while cameras are following, circling and leading the audience through the action as if participating in the events first hand.
There is no provision for starting over. No “cut” or “take two” here. Beginning with orders from Colin Firth as General Erinmore, and culminating with the delivery of a crucial message to Benedict Cumberbatch as Colonel MacKenzie, Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) endures heart pounding, stomach turning horror to prevent the slaughter of 1600 British troops in a German trap.
Producer Sam Mendes previously gave us Road to Perdition, Revolutionary Road, The Kite Runner and dozens of Penny Dreadful episodes for Showtime. George MacKay, a busy actor, but appearing here in a breakout performance, deserves a special award for this punishing role. Alongside Dean-Charles Chapman as Lance Corporal Blake, the human side of this relentlessly horrific war propels us through the early mechanization of military conflict, which was otherwise still being fought as it was during the Civil War. An underlying theme, as often is the case, is that no good deed goes unpunished. Compassion shown for the enemy frequently backfires in spectacularly tragic fashion.
This film has already taken its place among the top 25 war films of all time, and there are some heavy hitters in that crowd, from Apocalypse Now to All Quiet on the Western Front and Lawrence of Arabia.
See this on the big screen. If you suffer from PTSD, I recommend that you not suffer through this two-hour journey through Hell.
1917 (2019) Runs 1 hour 59 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie?  


Uncut Gems

Sometimes I have to take a step back and differentiate between the quality and effectiveness of a film versus my enjoyment at its showing.
If you enjoy being jostled in a noisy crowd at a filthy amusement park, and being thrilled at riding a rickety roller coaster with a history of safety issues and sharing your car with drunken thugs, then Uncut Gems may be your ticket. It is well done, but hard to watch.
Adam Sandler, the star of this show, is at his Jewish best, but not the lighthearted Saturday Night Live version, singing The Chanukah Song. This is a portrayal of a gambling-addicted New York Diamond District purveyor of gems and collector of sports memorabilia working to stay ahead of his own tidal wave of self-destruction. The addict’s delusion – just one more big score – propels him through layer upon layer of a money-fueled onion of Ponzi schemes built around the hope of auctioning an uncut 3000 carat stone for over a million dollars.
Sandler, playing Howard Ratner, relies for sales leads on associates of real-life basketball legend Kevin Garnett, a six foot eleven power forward, now retired, who is still dominating the game for the Boston Celtics in Uncut Gems. Garnett, smitten with the potentially magical powers of a huge black opal mined at the expense of Ethiopian slave-workers, offers his NBA title ring as collateral for the stone, which he believes will enhance his game. And it does. But not before Howard pawns the ring for cash, makes a series of seemingly impossible bets, and wins big. Or does he?
That’s where a family member mafia type, on a break from their shared Passover meal, sends thugs to collect from Howard, and cancels the bet. Of course, the bet would have paid off, so Howard learns nothing. On to the next big thing.
Along Howard’s journey, he is left naked in the trunk of a car, thrown in a fountain, beaten several times and threatened mercilessly. Nothing stops him or even slows him down much. His gambling adrenaline has the same effect as any other stimulant.
Howard treats customers, children, his wife and family with the same glazed-eyed, addle brained juggling and leveraging of emotions and money, robbing from Peter to pay Saul, in an exhausting array of interdependent maneuvers that result in his ultimate reckoning. But not before one more attempt, successful yet again, with the aid of his devoted prostitute girlfriend, Julia, played by Julia Fox.
The real feel of this film was enhanced by performers playing themselves alongside Garnett, like rapper Ca$h Out and The Weekend.
Idina Menzel steps away from her voicing of Elsa in Disney’s Frozen, appearing here as Dinah Ratner, Howard’s wife, disgusted with his antics and agreeing to announce a divorce, “after Passover.” Judd Hirsch is along for the ride as “Gooey,” 84 years old, but still reminding us of the TV hit Taxi.
Directed by 35 year old brothers, Josh and Bennie Safdie, whose limited experience includes the money-losing 2017 film Good Time, this latest effort will establish them as players in Hollywood. The discomfort I felt throughout the movie can be attributed to the relentless pace of Sandler’s delivery from a script so loaded with F-bombs and shouting it can cause tightness in your chest if it doesn’t numb your senses.
Uncut Gems (2019) runs 2 hours 15 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie?  
 Hard to say.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

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