Darke Reviews | Dolittle (2020)

I think as a child I knew *of* Dr. Dolittle, but I really cannot remember anything with the character itself. I mean I know I knew the Rex Harrison movie from 1967, which apparently was written by the lyrcisist (Leslie Bricusse) for one my favourite musicals ever and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the good one). I don’t think I ever read, and I know they were never read to me,  the original stories from the 1920’s, but the concept of people talking to animals was always tied to this character “Doctor Dolittle”. We are not discussing the 1998 Eddie Murphy movie or its four sequels. Ever.  That said, the concept of this character does seem pretty eternal and I don’t think there’s a child alive, or child at heart, who didn’t wonder about talking to animals. So when this trailer dropped, I was curious to say the least.

So should you go on a journey?

As mentioned, this character is based on a series of shorts by Hugh Lofting in the 1920’s and this particular iteration has a screenstory credit, and three screenplay credits. Usually a dangerous thing. The screenstory is by Thomas Shepherd, in his first cinematic body of work, and I don’t know the character or stories well enough to tell how his work is there. Two of the other credits go to Doug Mand and Dan Gregor (How I Met your Mother), who based on that shows success have a knack for comedy bits. Then we have our third screenplay credit, which is also our director, Stephen Gaghan, who worked on films like Traffic, Abandon, and Syriana. Clearly an obvious choice for a children’s movie about a man who talks to animals. Yet it worked. If you were to ask me to get technical, the movie is both rushed and slow in its script and pacing. It feels as if it rushes to get to the moment of wonder – and there are many – and then languishes between them before you are given the next. Despite it’s “period-ish” set pieces and existence, the dialogue from many in the cast is rather modern and may date the movie some in coming years. I have a feeling these were more adlibs than actual script. I hope they were anyway.

What amazed me most wasn’t the animals or even the adventure, but the setup. In an opening reminiscent of UP we are introduced to the character and his past deeds for Queen, Country, and Animals alike. THEN the movie begins. A fetch quest to get the McGuffin, to do the thing, against impossible odds, and enemies abound. A heroes journey that you see one beginning and the bottom of another. The movie checks most of the fantasy boxes and is proud of itself in doing so. It does have a right to be. True, its a mixed bag of characterizations and odd choices, but the emotional core of the movie never falters and I will take what is offered.

Characters themselves? The actors behind them. So bloody many. You have Robert Downey Jr. acting his heart out and reminding us he can be so much more than a man in a suit of iron. Sure everyone else I am about to list is fine, but RDJ and the accent he affects have to carry the movie. We count ourselves lucky he can do it and then some. I want to re-title this character “The Anti Toxic Masuclinity Hero” because it’s there and he does it so well. Michael Sheen is a hoot as the blatantly cartoonish Dr. Blair Müdfly, with the umlaut. I always like this man when he is having fun and it appears the direction he was given was to have fun. Then we have the last of our live actors of significance, with Harry Collett as Stubbins who does his best to shine with RDJ and the voice cast and doesn’t do too shabby a job. This isn’t to say he’s successful really, because the voice cast of animals of like a who’s who of personalities, with Emma Thompson (Brave, Harry Potter), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody, Mr. Robot) , John Cena (Bumblebee) , Kumail Nanjiani (Stuber, Silicon Valley), Octavia Spence (The Help, Hidden Figures), Tom Holland (Spider-Man), Craig Robinson (Hot Tub Time Machine), Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter, Schindlers List), Selena Gomez (Spring Breakers, Hotel Transylvania), Marion Cotilliard (Dark Knight Rises, Inception), and more. If I was having to say this outloud on my new Youtube channel, I’d be out of breath. It is awesome that we have all these talented actors in this movie, but they are all vying for their moment and thankfully it works out mostly. This is part of what I am sure other reviewers will complain about. This is a very busy movie with characters and it doesn’t work to the movies credit as much as it could or should. It almost, almost detracts for me, but what keeps that from happening is its, to use modern meme language, Pure.

Technically it’s fine. The CG work on the animals works well enough and is A grade, but still CGI. It’s so present though you forget about it and just see another character. I will also give technical props for what I can only see as a jab at 2019 Lion King and emotionless lion cubs. I looked to the member of my Dark Court with me tonight and we both giggled when the little lion cub emoted better than all the animals in that other movie combined. The editing is…a choice. It’s not something I was particularly fond of and again will be a detractor for many.

TL;DR?

The trailer grabbed my attention and I don’t want to say the trailer lied, but it did – a bit. It showed something a bit more dramatic and intense then what was actually delivered. This is truly the first family movie of the year. I mentioned in the full review how the movie felt pure, or genuine and it does. Whether it is or not is another story, but this doesn’t feel like a cash grab. I couldn’t help but feel good watching this movie. I laughed quite a bit and that felt good too.

So I suppose this isn’t just the first family movie of the year, but the first movie that makes you feel good watching it. It’s a sense of escapism at its best, where for just over 90 minutes you are transported to a world where we can talk to animals if we listen and we can solve problems without hurting people. Surprising coming from the Vampire Princess, but even I like to feel good from time to time and don’t need everything to be explosions and darkness. This movie is a very strong response to Toxic Masculinity and we need that. Need it more than ever.

Should I see it then?

Yeah I think you should. Take the partner, take the kids, take other people’s kids. People you know sheesh! This is a good little romp for really all ages.

Would you see it again then?

As always, you buying.

Unlikely, but I will assume you are buying it?

Yes. Yes I am. This is one of those soft movies I can put on when the spoons run out and I can’t even muscle the knives. This is The Great British Bake Off of movies. This is going to be a helluva year and having this in my collection will give me a bit of good to watch from time to time come May.

But is it good?

Ok trying to pin me down I see. I don’t necessarily think so. I do think it hit my Three Writer Rule, I think the adlibs were clear, I do think its a bit slap dash with the editing. Not everything enjoyable has to be good. This isn’t going to be a guilty pleasure, this just is fun and warm. Its comfort food. I think it, without seeing the other here, will be a better film than Bad Boys 3. No I won’t be seeing Bad Boys 3, it just didn’t look good and the humor looked as if it should have died with the franchise a seventeen years ago.

Alright, so January. Bad releases normally…got anything else coming?

I love Mackenzie Davis, but I am not sold on The Turning, so unlikely something next week.

The following week you may get two movies with The Rhythm Section and Gretel & Hansel.

 

Underwater 2020 Poster

Darke Reviews | Underwater (2020)

Feels like it’s been forever. Granted it has been two full weeks since I wrote a review, I also didn’t give you my friends my best and worst of 2019…might still get around to that. Usually around this time in the review, especially one early in the year, I will remind you that January is one of two things, a dump slot or Oscar bait. 1917 was released limited prior to this week so it could be the Oscar bait, literally nothing came out last week and this week we get a comedy I don’t imagine many will see and this bit of film that did not get a lot of promotion as near as I can tell. Granted, I have ad blockers, and pay for YouTubeRed so I don’t get commercials, but I truly don’t believe many know about this movie. Sadly I had to see it alone, as my two thirds of my Dark Court aren’t for horror and the other third did not think this was for them.

So is this a dump slot movie?

To me yes, in so much as that the studio wasn’t sure what to do with it or how to market it.

Example: The trailer

 

I Really don’t expect the average studio to look at some finished projects and know what they have and don’t have, especially on something like this; and this movie being a 20th century fox property prior to the buy out makes it more of a “well lets drop it and see if we can make something” move from the Mouse House. That said, you have a story by Brian Duffield (The Babysitter, Insurgent), with screenplay credit also going to Duffield. Adam Cozad (Legend of Tarzan), also receives a screenplay credit. I like what they do here. This is not a dialogue rich movie, but it is a dialogue appropriate one. What do I mean by that? Well despite most trends where this could have been exposition heavy to explain this thing or that thing or THAT thing, they don’t do it. Sure there’s some exposition, but it’s just enough to let you hear it and either follow along or don’t. The rest of the dialogue, with the exception of one character who I will get to in a bit, all feels natural given the circumstances and very directional to the story driving it, or the characters forward in a refreshingly honest way. The movie this reminds me most of, and I have a feeling this is Duffield coming through, is Alien. Imagine that crew, but underwater. The staging is different, the threat is different, but its that feel of character that is there and I was honestly riveted.

Credit has to go to director William Eubank (The Signal) for that as well. He makes beautiful use of Production designer Naaman Marshall’s (Art Director: The Dark Knight, PD: Don’t Breathe) work to create a both infinitely huge and claustrophobic space. The terms and conditions of being that far down are set up early and the movie reminds you of them frequently enough to make you worry, but not frequently enough to make you go “get on with it.” The Darkness and the depth of being nearly seven miles down on the Ocean floor have their own weight and menace to them, as much as open space did in well.. Space. To paraphrase, from a cheesy, but albeit really enjoyable movie, The Core – “Space, space is easy. There’s nothing there. When you go down, you have tons and tons of pressure.” That, in this case is both figurative and literal.

While not a cast of one, like Moon, the cast is small, with only 7 credited characters. Kristen Stewart gets top billing as Norah, a mechanical engineer on the deep mining rig and carries much of the movie on adept shoulders.  This is not, nor are any of them, a deep character, but that means in a film like this the work is even harder. Stewart not only has to make you care about her characters fate, but that of the others, and doesn’t get a lot of dialogue to do it. This relies on her abilities as an actress to use body language and expression; you know that thing everyone picks on her about, to sell the movie and she does. Jessica Henwick (Nymeria Sand on Game of Thrones, and Colleen Wing on The Defenders), plays Emily a research assistant in the wrong place at the wrong time and here again has to deliver and I find that she does. French Actor Vincent Cassel (Black Swan, Brotherhood of the Wolf) as the Captain brings weight to the movie, while John Gallagher Jr. (Peppermint, 10 Cloverfield Lane) brings some humanity. I am really starting to like this actor. The one stand out however, is TJ Miller. He adds nothing to the movie other than wasting the oxygen of the rest of the cast and crew. He could, and should, have been replaced with most any other comedic actor if they wanted levity in the film and it would likely have improved things. But can’t win them all I guess.

I would spend another few hundred words here raving on the production design of the movie, instead I shall be concise. I love the production design. Literally everything about it. That is all.

TL;DR?

This movie is hard to market, which is sad, because I haven’t had this good a time with a movie like this in a very long time. I am trying to remember the last time a movie made me feel tense and looking at the screen for something, anything that seemed out of sorts. They don’t play with jump scares or high shrieking notes, they actually just build tension and dread. When the characters get to breathe, so do you. I came out of this movie excited for what I saw and what it delivered. It was surprisingly satisfying end to end.

This is a dump slot movie in that I also don’t know when else it could be released and do well enough for “Top men” at the studios. It’s not avante garde enough for the major awards circuits or indie circuits, but would never be a blockbuster either. So it’s in a weird limbo, but feels right there too.

I also mentioned Alien before. This movie is possibly the most Alien that has Alien’d since Aliens and there’s no xenomorph. The deep sea suits look both futuristic, yet lived in and rugged, but also reminiscent of those on the Nostromo. The tight corrodors, the cables, the pressing threat of death all evoke more feelings like Alien did than the last four movies combined. I suppose that is setting a high bar for the movie to draw that comparison but its what I was feeling as I watched it.

Should I see it?

If the trailer seemed curious to you, yes.  While not as “huge” as Space, the movie benefits from a big screen viewing.

 

Would you see it again?

Yes. Even at full price.

Buying it then I guess?

Yes, yes I am. Hopefully I can work the Dark Court up to it at the Manor.

Alien huh?

I know. I know. Underwater won’t win any awards, it doesn’t change the status quo of film, it doesn’t particularly do anything groundbreaking, and sadly will go overlooked by most. It is a solid little near future tension packed film. The characters felt real enough and Stewart carries well. When people say “we made the lead like Ripley”, this is what that SHOULD look like, vs….well every other time they claim that. Thankfully here, no one claimed it, but they did earn it.

What’s next?

Why Doolittle of course!