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Review: ‘Dolittle,’ Robert Downey Jr. Starring Vehicle, Lives Up to Its Name

Robert Downey Jr., Antonio Banderas, and Michael Sheen star in the comic family adventure, directed by Stephen Gaghan. 

Created by Hugh Lofting in letters he sent home to his children during World War I, the good doctor memorably came to life in an awkward, big-screen adventure embodied by Rex Harrison in 1967, and again by Eddie Murray in 1998. 

Robert Downey Jr. now inhabits the character as a grieving widower who speaks in a strange, distinctive, muttered accent that is all but indecipherable. Directed by Academy Award-winning writer Stephen Gaghan (Traffic), the movie struggles to make much narrative sense. 

The doctor is motivated by a young apprentice to find a cure for the ailing Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley), accompanied by Dolittle’s menagerie of animals, voiced by a large collection of celebrities (Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Marion Cotillard, Ralph Fiennes, Craig Robinson) and on and on the movie goes. Emma Thompson also narrates, which helps some. 

Aimed broadly at children, the film is overstuffed with visual effects, characters, and designs to mostly puzzling ends. As an adult who is well past the ‘sell-by’ date for the move, I must acknowledge that, while Dolittle is confusing and pointless, it succeeds admirably as more than 100 minutes of noise and distraction from the pains of modern life. 

<em>The film opened in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, January 17, 2020. The film is now available to watch via a variety of VOD platforms, including FandangoNOW. For more information about the film, visit the “>official site.</em>

Review: ‘Captain America: Civil War’

dfn-captain_america_civil_war_300Since 2008, Marvel Studios has made a dozen movies that are cut from the same cloth, presenting an optimistic universe filled by an increasing number of bright and friendly superheroes putting down a variety of challenges that threaten mankind.

Their 13th production, Captain America: Civil War, takes a slightly different tack, suggesting that the world has become worn down by the deadly side effects often wrought by the superheroes, and wants them to bow their knees to a new law that will limit their activity greatly. It’s a classic ‘straw man’ scenario, whose primary intent is to divide the superheroes into two camps, one in favor of the new law and one in opposition.

In an incredible, amazing coincidence, 12 superheroes are presented in the movie, and they are evenly divided between the two camps. Wow! Who could have imagined?

Truth to tell, Captain America: Civil War takes a very long time to establish the two opposing teams. Until the teams are formulated, the dramatic pace is sluggish, weighed down with portentous and pretentious debates in slow motion as the superheroes slowly conclude how they should proceed.

The breezy wit that has marked the previous dozen films is absent through the sleepy first hour (or more), interrupted by action sequences on a timely basis. Theoretically, the action scenes should pump up the movie as a whole, but they’re shot by directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo in the same misbegotten style they previously demonstrated in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a style that has also predominated in other Marvel movies.

It’s a style that slashes the action into tiny, 3-second segments that make it impossible to follow what’s happening, with the perspective jerking from here to there for no discernible reason, other than to disguise the stunt players and whatever computer-graphic shots may have been inserted to fill them out. The sequences detract from the movie as a whole, draining the possibility of suspense and drama and replacing it with sound and motion.

The sole exception is an above-average portion of the movie that begins with the recruitment of two hyphenated superheroes, namely Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland). For as long as they’re on screen, Captain America: Civil War becomes a better movie, and the extended action sequence in which they are both featured is the highlight of the entire experience, in part because it pauses to allow for joking dialogue and an assessment of the situation; the fights have meaning and reflect the characters involved. Also, there are very real consequences that arise, and the sum result is a lifting of spirits.

Sadly, that is not the end of the movie. Instead, the 146-minute monstrosity must trudge onward to a conclusion that is not a conclusion so much as an introduction to more Marvel movies.

The movie allows Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and newly-introduced Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) to pout and glower and scowl, in and out of their skin-tight costumes. Help yourself.

The film opens in wide release throughout Dallas on Friday, May 6.

Review: ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’

'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows' (Warner Bros.)
'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows' (Warner Bros.)

The transformation of Sherlock Holmes from 19th Century private detective to 21st Century action hero is now complete with the release of ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,’ the sequel to the financially-successful 2009 reboot of the character.

Under the directorial guidance of Guy Ritchie, Sherlock (Robert Downey, Jr.) operated in a grey, grungy London in the first installment, teaming with his good friend Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) to solve a dastardly crime with far-reaching effects. ‘Shadows’ moves the bulk of the action to the Continent, where Holmes delves into the death of the Crown Prince of Austria and must grapple with the murderous Moriarty (Jared Harris), who is trying to start a European war for his own evil purposes.

Arguably smarter than Holmes, Moriarty is definitely more devious, and is perfectly willing — eager, even — to inflict emotional pain to advance his cause, to the extent that he calmly arranges for the death of Sherlock’s beloved friend Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams). Taken aback by this personal affront, Holmes arranges for Watson’s beloved new wife (Kelly Reilly) to be whisked away for her own safety and well-being, never mind that it’s their honeymoon.

Holmes and Watson then track down Madame Simka (Noomi Rapace, from the original Swedish version of ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’), a Gypsy who has information that the detecting duo need to order to track down Moriarty and stop him from fanning the flames of war.

‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’ places the emphasis on character and action rather than plot, which is good, since the plot is an elaborate labyrinth full of holes and doesn’t much matter anyway. Holmes and Watson banter affectionately and face down danger together, always downplaying the incredulity of the outlandish predicaments in which they find themselves, and that passes for character development in the world of modern heroics.

It’s all in good fun, but if you’re not tuned in to the specific frequency, it just sounds like one note being played over and over again, variations on the same weak joke. The action scenes are a victim of the repetition syndrome as well; by this point, Guy Ritchie’s rhythms are well-known, and we know we can expect too-tight framing, confusing choreography, and slow-motion inserts, all in settings that are, this time, rather drab and unimaginative.

To be fair, the general spirit of geniality bleeds freely throughout, coating the tedious and boring sections with sufficient levity to make watching the entire movie a tolerable experience, even if you’re not bemused by the sight of a train that’s been blown in half never stopping, or slowing down, to notice that half of the cars have been left behind.

If you liked the first one, chances are you’ll like the second. ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’ doesn’t provide anything new, just more of the same.

‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’ opens wide across the Metroplex tomorrow.