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Films I Neglected To Review: You’ll Believe That A Dragon Can Fart.
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Disturbing the Peace," "Dolittle" and "Weathering with You."

Unless you are an aficionado of terrible VOD thrillers or a Nicolas Cage completist (and the lines between the two are practically nonexistent these days), you probably have long forgotten 2018's "211," an absolutely dreadful heist film in which a group of thugs arrive in a small town to rob the local bank and find themselves up against a troubled cop (guess who?) determined to bring them down over the course of an extended siege that suggested a remake of the centerpiece theft and shootout from "Heat" as staged by someone who only had the sequence described to him by a viewer who was not paying very much attention. Apparently, one of the people who forgot about the existence of "211" was its director, York Alec Shackelton, because with his latest effort, "Disturbing the Peace", he has given us another--and, dare I say, lamer--heist film in which a group of thugs arrive in a small town to rob the local bank and find themselves up against a troubled cop determined to bring them down, yadda yadda yadda. The only real difference here is that the Cage role of Marshall Jim Dillon (yeah, Marshall Dillon), a soft-spoken Texas Ranger who finds his vow to never again use a gun (following an incident where he shot his partner) sorely tested when a motorcycle gang led by a thug named, perhaps inevitably, Diablo (Devon Sawa), arrives to knock over the bank and an arriving armored truck, is played here by Guy Pearce, a decision that seems as baffling to him as it is to the rest of us.

As bad as "211" was, it almost comes across as a model of competence when compared to this film, which somehow manages to come across as both incredibly absurd (there are so many participants in the heist that an even split of the proceeds would probably earn each one about $1290 tops) and incredibly dull (each aspect of the heist plot is laid out in excruciatingly extensive detail that comes across as especially ridiculous since the town being hit appears to have a population of about 12). Even on the most basic levels of technical expertise, the film comes up short--the sound effects for the gunfights and other action beats are handled so incompetently that they wouldn’t pass muster in a 100-level filmmaking course. Aside from the presence of Pearce, who manages to display a vague sense of professionalism that puts the rest of the film to shame despite the fact that he is clearly coasting through it, "Disturbing the Peace" is an ungodly mess of a would-be thriller that only proves that there are evidently some things that Nicolas Cage will not do for money after all.

For those of you scoring at home, the wait is over. The first all-out, unmitigated what-were-they-thinking? cinematic disaster of the decade--the kind of boondoggle so immense that it actually makes one think slightly more fondly about "Cats" in retrospect--has arrived in theaters in the form of "Dolittle" and, if nothing else, it certainly lives up to its name. Hugh Lofting's stories of the eccentric doctor with the ability to speak to animals has already had a checkered film history--an enormously expensive 1967 musical with Rex Harrison that is remembered today only for the song "Talk to the Animals" and a hard-sell promotional campaign that scored it one of the least-deserved Best Picture Oscar nominations of all time and a couple of mediocre Eddie Murphy family comedies in 1998 and 2001--but those films come across as masterpieces compared to the gibberish being offered here. This time around, Robert Downey Jr. plays Dolittle, who has shut himself off from the outside world since the death of his wife seven years earlier with only his animal menagerie--dog Jip (Tom Holland), parrot Polynesia (Emma Thompson), duck Dab-Dab (Octavia Spencer), polar bear Yoshi (John Cena), neurotic gorilla Chee-Chee (Rami Malek) and ostrich Plimpton (Kumail Nanjiani)--for company until his solitude is invaded by Stubbins (Harry Collett), a young boy who has accidentally shot a squirrel (Craig Robinson), and Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado), a lady-in-waiting bearing a summons from the ailing Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley). In order to save the Queen’s life and his home, Dolittle and his crew, along with Stubbins, set sail for a distant island containing a rare tree with the evil Dr. Mudfly (Michael Sheen) trying to stop him along the way as part of a plot cooked up with the nefarious Lord Badgely (Jim Broadbent), a journey that will find them encountering a vengeful king (Antonio Banderas), a tiger with issues (Ralph Fiennes) a criminal duo consisting of a fox and a giraffe (Marion Cotillard and Selena Gomez) and, because why not, a dragon (Frances de la Tour) for good measure.

I suspect that the idea behind the film was to try to create a family-oriented fantasy that nevertheless contained humor that would also appeal to more adult sensibilities, something along the lines of Terry Gilliam's still-majestic "Time Bandits." That approach would make sense if the film was in the hands of someone with a discernible sense of humor or fantasy, which makes it all the more bewildering that Stephen Gaghan, who wrote "Traffic" and wrote and directed "Syriana," would get the gig of directing and co-writing the screenplay. Visually, the film looks drab and virtually no effort has gone into trying to make the CGI creatures believably coexist with their surroundings. Even worse is the screenplay, in which the occasional attempts at generating some kind of recognizable emotion are immediately undercut by dumb jokes ranging from anachronistic dialogue (including an octopus saying that "snitches get stitches") to the jaw-dropping sight of Dolittle treating the dragon's intestinal distress by pulling a lot of things out of its hinder and getting a massive blast of flatulence in the face for his troubles. Even when the film does stumble upon a good idea, it seems to go out of its way to squelch it--the notion of the fox and giraffe duo on the lam is amusing but then those characters are around for about three minutes before disappearing. Unfortunately for Downey, he could not pull a similar trick and so he instead coasts through the film with a performance in which he evidently put all of his energy into developing a Welsh accent that is dubious even by Welsh standards. "Dolittle" reportedly had a difficult production--there are many points where it seems as if entire scenes are missing, not that anyone will be clamoring for an extended version anytime soon--and clearly cost a ton of money to bring it to its finished form but the end result is so utterly joyless and devoid of inspiration and invention that most viewers, even the younger ones, will come away from it wondering why they even bothered in the first place.

"Weathering with You," the latest animated epic from Makoto Shinkai, whos last film was the 2016 international hit "Your Name," is one of those films that starts off so well and has so many things going for it that it becomes an exercise in frustration to watch at it fails to come together into a satisfying whole at the end. Set in an alternate version of Tokyo that, as the result of climate change, is constantly being buffeted by torrential rains. New in town is Hodaka, a 16-year-old runaway who eventually finds shelter and vague employment with Suga, who runs a sleazy tabloid magazine. One day, he meets the slightly older Hina and after each one has saved the other--she sneaks him a sandwich from the place where she works and he rescues her from two guys trying to get her to work at a strip club so she can earn money to care for her younger brother--a romance begins to develop. It is then that Hodaka discovers Hina's secret--she is a "sunshine girl" who has the power to temporarily stop the endless rain and allow the sun to come out. Hodaka convinces Hini to use her powers to help provide people with a respite from the rain for a fee. It all goes well for a while but the young lovers are soon confronted by outside forces--detectives hired by Hodaka's parents to find him and social service workers looking for Hini and her brother--as well as a secret involving Hini's powers that force her to make an impossible decision involving the good of the many versus the good of the few.

Not surprisingly, the film is a visual wonder from start to finish with one eye=popping image after another, ranging from rain that comes down in such abundance that the sky and the ocean appear to have merged together to the neon lights of the city as seen through that same rain. The two main characters are interesting and their relationship develops in intriguing ways. As for the message about climate change that underlines the entire narrative, it is not especially subtle, I suppose, but neither is it overly ham-fisted. The problem is that once everything is set up, roughly 50 minutes or so into it, the narrative begins to slacken and starts getting way too mawkish for its own good. Granted, it does get a little more interesting at the climax, which refreshingly does not unfold as one might expect, but by the time it arrives at that point, it has lost most of the momentum and interest that it built up in the first half. "Weathering with You" is beautiful to look at and undeniably more ambitious and interesting than most of the American animated features that have come out over the last year. I just wish that I liked it more than I did.

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originally posted: 01/17/20 13:53:24
last updated: 01/18/20 01:46:16
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