Saturday, February 29, 2020

Flicks I Saw in February

Dolittle is the first of two movies I saw in one week that I could have missed seeing without altering my life very much for the richer or the poorer. It's become a hissing and a byword in the popular press, but I don't think it's all that scandalously bad. It has some cute images and set pieces in it, featuring a mad veterinarian, a gentle boy, a bunch of not so much talking animals as animals whose language the doctor and the boy can understand, some special effects that didn't knock my socks off but weren't absolutely atrocious either, and a story somewhat based on the series of books by Hugh Lofting that have so far fallen from favor that they practically have to be rewritten before anyone will allow them to be reprinted these days.

Leading the cast is Robert Downey Jr., fresh off his blockbuster role as Iron Man, putting on a conspicuously unsuitable (for him) Welsh accent. Also appearing in it are Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Jim Broadbent, and the voice talents of several well-known actors who are now probably thanking their deities, stars, agents, etc. for that fact that, with a couple exceptions (cough Emma Thompson cough) nobody recognized them.

Three Scenes that Made It For Me: (1) Using a spot of reflected light to distract a ravening tiger - like a kitty with a laser pointer. (2) The gross-out scene in which Dolittle sorts out a dragon's bowel obstruction. Flatulent fireworms! (3) The daft adventures of James the dragonfly.

Bad Boys for Life was the other movie I went to see and came away feeling that my life wasn't particularly changed. In fact, I was kind of disgusted with it. It's a sequel to a movie I didn't like 25 years ago, featuring some of the same actors (Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, etc.), 25 years older but not much wiser. The bad guys are monstrous and the good guys aren't much better, especially by the end of the film, where everything gets turned around to an extent that good people's deaths and bad people's acts of homicide wash out into a general moral grayness that, frankly, left an acid taste at the back of my mouth.

I'm not really up to awarding this movie Three Scenes that Made It For Me. The most I'm willing to put to the film's credit are Three Characters I Cared About: (1) The former super-soldier who needs therapy after committing acts of violence. (2) The police captain who gets sniper-shot in the middle of being a nice family man. (3) The villain who used to be on Martin's pee-wee basketball team and is all, "Coach Burnett?" while being brutally interrogated in a moving vehicle. If he had grown up a little less evil, I might have cared about him more. But that "Coach Burnett?" got me just enough that I found it hard to watch him get shot in the face, just so a badder bad guy could improve his aim at Will Smith. As for that badder guy getting rehabilitated at the end of the movie, I didn't buy it and I didn't like it. Some buddy cop banter, acrobatic murder and high-energy chase scenes aside, this movie is one I'll forget with pleasure.

The Last Full Measure is the one movie I saw in a theater in February that really made my day. It's based on the real story of a U.S. Air Force enlisted airman whose heroism earned him a rare (for a non-commissioned USAF guy) Congressional Medal of Honor decades after his death. William Pitsenbarger, Jr. rappelled out of a helicopter to provide air rescue for the wounded survivors of an Army unit that got smashed to bits, first by friendly fire and then by the Viet Cong. Something like 30 years later, an at first unenthusiastic Department of Defense bureaucrat gets stuck with the assignment of trying to push Pitsenbarger's bid for a medal forward. At first the desk jockey doesn't really care, but then he falls in love with the young hero's still grieving parents, and he slowly starts to break through the barriers that have kept the boy from being medaled – including a couple of old soldiers' personal motives to cover up their own embarrassing mistakes.

Besides being Peter Fonda's last film role, the movie also makes beautiful use of Christopher Plummer, Ed Harris, Samuel L. Jackson, William Hurt, Diane Ladd, John Savage, Amy Madigan and Bradley Whitford. It also features Michael Imperioli, Linus Roache, Sebastian Stan, Alison Sudol and Robert Pine, not to mention a lineup of men's-cologne-ad-model-caliber faces as the young guys in uniform (notably War Horse's Jeremy Irvine as Pitsenbarger). Together, they tell a story out of chronological sequence, timed for maximum dramatic effect. Neither my parents, with whom I saw the movie, nor I made it out of the show dry-eyed.

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Pitsenbarger's letter to his sweetheart, trying to explain as best he can why he puts his life on the line for others. (2) The scene where Pits' parents come to the bureaucrat's house for dinner and the father (Plummer) says grace, thanking God for everything the desk jockey (Stan) is doing for them – and absolutely torpedoing Stan's plan to tell them he can't do any more for them. (3) One of the vets whose life Pits saved (played by Savage) shows Stan a butterfly sanctuary he created on the spot where he looked up and saw Pits descending from the sky, like an angel. There really are so many other scenes I could mention – including the emotionally wrecking confessions of the vets played by Jackson and Harris as they finally open their hearts and their mouths to Stan's inquiries. It's a movie that powerfully does honor to the sacrifices of parents, sweethearts, the men who made it home and those who didn't in a war some vets still, to this day, can't talk about – the price they continue to pay – and a vanishingly rare reward that matters more on an emotional level than any real value it might have. This film has my unreserved recommendation.

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