Tag Archives: Craig Robinson

Dolittle

I suppose it might entertain very young children.

I have meditated on that single sentence above for minutes and even hours, wondering if I should leave it at that. Explaining the why and the how of this movie’s failure is baffling at best yet won’t even make for entertaining reading.

The story is weak yet convoluted. A physician/veterinarian (we have such a combo in our own family: Sean’s sister), Dr. Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) has sequestered himself behind the doors of his menagerie, gone full hermit since the death of his beloved wife. Luckily he has the unique ability to speak to animals in their native language, so he isn’t entirely alone, but his existence is notably and emphatically human-free. Until, that is, the day when not one but two children come calling.

The first is a boy who has accidentally shot a squirrel who needs immediate medical attention. The second is a girl sent from Queen Victoria’s palate where the Queen lays gravely ill, also requiring immediate medical attention. Dr. Dolittle, unhappy to be disturbed either way, treats the squirrel but needs convincing to attend to the Queen. In the Queen’s bedchambers he learns that she’s been poisoned and the antidote exists only on a faraway island. Dolittle, the boy Stubbins, and a bunch of animals of varying degrees of helpfulness, set sail on an epic adventure to find said cure.

They’re pursued by a villain with questionable motives, they subject us to a minutes-long fart joke (will small children even understand that Dolittle is rooting through a dragon’s anus with a leek, relieving it of all the undigested armor of the valiant knights she’s eaten for breakfast?).

I think the journey’s purpose is that Dolittle must learn he can grieve his wife without shutting himself off from the rest of humanity. They don’t exactly earn this, nor do they try very hard to express it.

The best and maybe only good part is an anxious ostrich voiced by Kumail Nanjiani. The worst part is, sadly, RDJ himself. He’s doing an indiscernible accent through which most of his dialogue is lost. He goes full nut when perhaps only half nut would have sufficed. His tone rarely matches that of the story. The poor guy has spent too many years acting in front of a green screen. I think for his first post-Ironman role he needed something a little more grounded but instead he went full fanciful and feels lost forever. Who can rescue his career now?

But Robert Downey Jr. wasn’t the only high-profile actor duped into signing on: Jim Broadbent, Michael Sheen, and Antonio Banderas all appear. Plus Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, Tom Holland, John Cena, Octavia Spencer, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, Marion Cotillard, and Jason Mantzoukas all lend their voice. And yet even standing on all these famous and famously talented shoulders, the film still cannot keep its head above water. Like an ostrich learning the hard way that he can neither fly nor swim, the movie simply adopts a dead man’s float and hopes a film goer or two might take a poke at its bloated corpse.

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

Timmy Failure has a misleading name, because he’s anything but. He may be young (11), but he’s the best detective in town (Portland). He and his partner, an imaginary 1500lb polar bear named Total, run the agency, called Total Failures, together. This may have been Timmy’s first mistake. Total is not the diligent and responsible polar bear he first appeared to be.

Timmy (Winslow Fegley), easily identified by his mullet and his red scarf (if not by his polar bear partner), roams the mean streets of Portland on the failure mobile, which looks suspiciously like a segway. But his case of the missing backpack is usurped by the case of the missing segway (eep!) which is in turn usurped by just trying to survive the 5th grade, his mom’s new boyfriend, his school’s rigid anti-bear policy, and the Russian spies overtaking his city. Gulp.

Winslow Fegley is a delightfully odd kid who pulls off charming and quirky in equal measure, exactly the kind of weirdo who’s a pleasure to watch. The whole cast, largely unknown, and largely children, are surprisingly talented and likable. It’s a good fit for a script that excels at being offbeat. Even the polar bear sidekick looks terrific, a visual witticism crashing about on screen. Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is almost like a Wes Anderson starter movie, tonally odd but in a way I quickly became addicted to. I imagine this is the kind of movie the whole family can actually enjoy, its clever moments more than enough to keep adults entertained and the protagonist’s wacky antics enthralling for all ages.

Timmy Failure is a great piece of original programming for Disney+ and I wouldn’t mind a bit if there was more just like it (sequel?) on the way.

TIFF19: Dolemite Is My Name

Rudy Ray Moore is a real-life man who made something of himself. He started from the bottom, begging people just to notice him, but eventually finds his niche, creating a character named Dolemite and telling jokes on stage and on comedy albums to very appreciative (mostly black) audiences. He’s a success by any measure, but after a lifetime of being told no, he sets his sights even higher, wanting to take his character to the big screen even though the studio system refuses to make room for him.

This is the role Eddie Murphy was born to play; he is truly at his very best here, more alive and in his skin than I’ve seen him in a long time. His joy is infectious. A long time passion project for Murphy, it’s clear all the cast has caught the bug as well. It truly feels as though everyone is proud to help bring this story to the screen, and to a new generation’s attention. The exceptional ensemble cast, including Keegan-Michael Key, Wesley Snipes, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, Mike Epps, and the lovely Da’Vine Joy Randolph, has a shared energy and passion making for a veritable party on the screen. It’s easy to join in and feel part of the fun.

Dolemite was a character just waiting to be born from years worth of cultural stories and jokes passed down generationally in the African-American community. Moore tapped into this consciousness, giving Dolemite back to his people, and director Craig Brewer ensures that he will not be forgotten. Watching Murphy as Moore find the groove of this Dolemite character is pure magic, a privilege to see. Moore achieved fame as a blaxploitation star in his own right and on is own terms, and he reached back, creating opportunities for others as well as himself, recognizing and picking up spare talent along the way. It’s a remarkable story and kind of an inspiration – in a weird way, a lot like Tommy Wiseau and The Disaster Artist.

But Dolemite is such a unique character and Murphy such a massive talent that this film is simply undeniable. Also rude, crude, and vulgar – not fit for a dog to see, as they say. The best kind of dirty. Dolemite is his name. Fucking up mother fuckers is his game. And for a time, it can be yours.

An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn

Lulu is a waitress in a coffee shop when she is unceremoniously fired by her manager, Shane Danger, who is also her husband. Home all day, she notices that their house could use some upgrades, starting with a bigger, better TV, but Shane says this isn’t a good time for spending since they’re down to a single income. Lulu mocks her husband for having so little in the way of savings. Even her brother Adjay has more. Cut to: Shane, an idiot, robbing Adjay of his savings. Only Adjay doesn’t take it too kindly; he hires Colin to retrieve the money and shoot Shane in the kneecaps.
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Of course, what actually happens is: Lulu (Aubrey Plaza) absconds with Colin (Jemaine Clement) and the money. They hide out in a nameless hotel that’s been advertising a magical Evening With Beverly Luff Linn. Beverly (Craig Robinson) and his platonic (?) partner Rodney have been cooling their heels in this hotel for days, postponing their show, and Lulu is determined to hook up with Beverly, whom she seems to have known in the past. Lulu is obsessed with Beverly, Colin is obsessed with Lulu, and Shane (Emile Hirsch) isn’t really obsessed with anything, but he’s always in the way.

I watched this movie on the strength of its cast, which was already a mixed bag. It has pretensions. I think maybe it wants to be Wes Anderson-ish or even John Waters-ish; the dialogue is heavily stylized, although it often mistakes style for screaming, and sorrier still, Robinson’s character for some reason only grunts\growls which gets SO old SO fast. The costumes are outlandish but unexplained.

I was ready to turn this movie off so many times and only my cheapness (rental fee: $5.74) kept me in the game. You can tell director Jim Hosking is going for an out-of-the-box experience, but nothing works, and I’m pretty much the prime audience for quirky material. When a movie like this works, we call it absurd, and we giggle delightedly. But An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn isn’t absurd, it’s only stupid, and instead of laughing, I played sudoku on my phone to pass the time. I want to love a movie that takes risks and tells its story in an off-kilter way, but this one didn’t feel fun to me. It was an exercise in patience and it tested my nerves. Regrettably, this is a hard no for me.

Table 19

I sort of wonder if this is an oddball comedy or just a comedy filled with oddballs. It IS filled with oddballs, that’s the premise. Eloise (Anna Kendrick) is the ex-maid of honour at her best friend’s wedding. Having recently been broken up with the bride’s brother\best man, she knows she shouldn’t be there but to prove a point she RSVPs yes, and as a reward for her bravery, she gets seated at dreaded table 19 with all the other losers and rejects who should have known better.

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They’re a gang of misfits and the wedding is doomed for them. The critics have doomed Table 19 entirely, but I thought it had its charms. There’s certainly a lot of sympathy for the odd ducks of the world, and the performances are pretty winning (Squibb and Merchant being favourites). Some of the gags are tired but it’s kind of nice to see the weirdos normally relegated to the background have a moment in the spotlight. A Mumblecore film more concerned with characters and dialogue than plot, this movie isn’t going to light the world on fire. But like any wedding, it can be made tolerable with an open bar.