The Week in Film by Robert Mann – Week Starting 13/2/09

Hotel For Dogs *****

Following in the footsteps of the Disney releases Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Bolt, the Nickelodeon produced Hotel For Dogs is the latest in a long line of canine themed family movies being churned out by the Hollywood filmmaking machine. Unlike either of those films, however, this film does not feature animals that talk, something which really helps to distinguish it. Based on the book of the same name by Lois Duncan, Hotel For Dogs is being released just in time for the half term holiday so, as would be expected, it has a lot of other films to compete with for the family audience. So, does the film have what it takes to stand up to the other (admittedly very good) family films on offer at the moment? The answer is a resounding yes – this film is just as worthy as any of its competitors.

Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin) are siblings who, following the death of their parents, have found themselves being moved around from one foster house to the next. Their only friend seems to be their social worker, Bernie (Don Cheadle), who goes to great lengths to ensure that they stay out of trouble so that they won’t be split up. However, his job is not an easy one as they get into trouble frequently, as they are determined to get out of their current household run by Lois (Lisa Kudrow) and Carl (Kevin Dillon) Scudder, two musicians who hate having them around as much as they hate being there. They spend their days prior to starting school with their dog Friday, who has to sleep outside as dogs are not allowed in the house. When Friday is captured by animal control, Andi and Bruce manage to get him back but realizing that if he is caught again they won’t be so lucky, they decide that they need to find somewhere for him to live, and they think they have found it when they stumble upon an old abandoned hotel where a number of stray dogs are living. There they come up with the idea of rounding up stray dogs and bringing them to the hotel where they will be safe from being sent to the pound and with the help of local pet shop workers Dave (Johnny Simmons) and Heather (Kyla Pratt), as well as nearly store worker Mark (Troy Gentile) they set about creating a safe haven for stray dogs, building ingenious contraptions to help look after the dogs even when they are not there. Everything seems to be going well, as they rescue more and more dogs, and there is even some romance in the air, but when the neighbours complain about the noise coming from the hotel, they all find themselves in greater trouble than ever before as they attempt to protect the dogs from both the police and animal control, and make sure that every stray has its day.

The main reason that Hotel For Dogs works so well as a piece of family entertainment is its sheer ingenuity in taking a concept that could have resulted in a tired and predictable family flick and making out of it a film that is both clever and inventive, and that manages to be both very funny and very moving at times. At the heart of the film is a terrific feel good story that tells a simple tale about caring for man’s best friend, while also telling a tale about two siblings who have lost their parents and who are desperately trying to stay together despite the system constantly working against them. The story is sweet and sincere and as you would expect has a great happy ending. There is plenty of humour packed into the story with the gags being funny and being completely free of innuendo or crudeness, and this even applies to the toilet humour. While the film is undeniably funny there is a more serious side as well, and the gags never get in the way of this. As viewers we actively feel for the characters (even the dogs) when things go wrong and we long for everything to work out well, which of course it does. One of the major strong points of the film, however, is undoubtedly the ingenious contraptions, which are truly inventive and make for some extremely set pieces. It is clear that a lot of work went into setting them up and the result does not disappoint. Another major strength is, of course, the dogs themselves. All real dogs – no CGI or animatronics here – the film works well for this simple fact. The set pieces really impress because what we see are real dogs performing real stunts, and this provides a level of entertainment that you won’t get from any film where the animals are merely computer effects. Just as importantly, the dogs are all extremely adorable, and each has its own unique personality that helps to identify each dog as a character in its own right, a character that we can empathise with and care about. The dogs steal the show pretty much whenever they are on screen but the human performances are worth mentioning also. While this film is certainly a step down for Don Cheadle after appearing in more ‘sophisticated’ films, he does bring with him a certain level of gravitas, even though his screen time is somewhat limited. The other adult actors also have rather limited screen time, but Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon are nonetheless very entertaining in their roles for which they are extremely well cast. As for the younger cast members, Emma Roberts is her usual delightful self, delivering a typically likeable performance, and she is backed up well by Jake T. Austin, Johnny Simmons, Kyla Pratt and Troy Gentile who all deliver enjoyable performances. All in all, Hotel For Dogs is a good, wholesome film that the whole family can enjoy. It is unmissable family entertainment that dog-lovers will love and even those of you aren’t too keen on dogs should find charming. It is definitely one of the major contenders for this half term holiday and it certainly isn’t a dog of a movie.


The Pink Panther 2 ***½

When it was released back in 2006, Steve Martin’s remake of the British comedy classic The Pink Panther was received with great dismay by both critics (though not this critic – I found it hugely entertaining) and fans of the original film series by Blake Edwards. However, this didn’t stop it performing well enough at the box office for the studio to immediately green-light a sequel, and now, three years later, it hits our screens. Judging by the film’s mediocre performance at the box office thus far, though, the decision to do a sequel may well be one that the studio comes to regret, but poor box office doesn’t necessarily reflect poor quality, and thus the question will be raised as to whether this sequel is any good. The answer depends entirely on your own personal taste in humour.

Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Steve Martin) the legendary French Officer of the Law, who single-handedly saved the priceless Pink Panther Diamond, has spent his time since writing parking tickets under orders from Chief Inspector Dreyfus (John Cleese), who just wants him out of the way. Recently, valuable artifacts from around the world have been stolen, including the Pink Panther, by a master thief known as The Tornado and Dreyfus is ordered to assign Clouseau to an international dream team of detectives. Thus, Clouseau, along with his partner Ponton (Jean Reno), finds himself working alongside detectives from all around the world including Vicenzo (Andy Garcia), Pepperidge (Alfred Molina), Kenji (Yuki Matsuzaki) and Sonia (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). As the team travel all over the globe trying to catch The Tornado, the bumbling Clouseau finds himself not only trying to catch the thief but also vying for the affections of Nicole (Emily Mortimer), whom Vicenzo has shown an interest in. Can Clouseau overcome his constant accidents to win the girl and solve the case?

No doubt many will judge The Pink Panther 2 without even giving it a fair chance. Anyone who saw the first Steve Martin entry into the franchise will already know exactly what to expect from this sequel. Those who hated it will probably avoid this film at all costs for its unsophisticated and predictable brand of slapstick comedy. Those who loved the first film will probably see this sequel for the exact same reason as those who hated it will avoid it. After all, comedy is purely a matter of taste. What one person considers to be comedy gold, another considers to be cinematic excrement, and this film is a clear example of this. There is nothing intelligent or witty about any of the humour on display here, yet this critic (as well as everyone else in the same screening) found himself laughing profusely at the film’s completely unoriginal but still side-splitting slapstick situations and set-pieces. Some of the sequences are actually quite clever and inventive in their execution, notably a sequence involving Clouseau, a falling wine rack and wine bottles being thrown around a restaurant in what is actually a very good piece of choreography. For the most part, the gags are extremely silly but anyone looking for true belly laughs will find it hard to contain themselves. However, there are a few gags that fall that, in particular one where Clouseau is taught political and social correctness that is extremely misjudged, and rather inappropriate for younger viewers. There isn’t too much of this though. The entire cast are game for all the situations they are required to be in, with Steve Martin delivering his usual ‘high standard’ of physical comedy, and Jean Reno and Alfred Molina also get some rather funny scenes. As a whole, however, despite the film’s very impressive cast line-up (which also includes Jeremy Irons, Lily Tomlin and Geoffrey Palmer in addition to those aforementioned), a lot of the actors seem rather wasted. In a film with so many talented stars as this, something special would be expected but despite the efforts of everyone, few of the cast members really get a chance to shine. Another issue that some may have with the film is that the plot is extremely predictable with virtually no surprises in store and a twist that many will see coming a long way off. This is probably expected though and doesn’t hold back what it is an extremely fun comedy. All in all, The Pink Panther 2 doesn’t quite replicate the level of humour that its predecessor reached, but anyone who likes their comedies to be stupid and silly will still have a great time watching.


Notorious ***

As biopics go, Notorious has been more eagerly anticipated than most. Telling the story of the meteoric rise and fall of the rapper known as Notorious B.I.G., this film was actually produced by Voletta Wallace, the mother of the man himself and executive produced by Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs, the man who made him into a star. It is unlikely that two better suited people could have been chosen to produce the film as who could know the man better than those who were close to him and knew him personally. With such credentials and an extreme level of anticipation for the film, hopes were certainly high but word from the film’s US release is that it doesn’t quite live up to expectations, and this is most definitely the case.

Charting the rise of rapper Notorious B.I.G., this film tells the story of Christopher ‘Biggie Smalls’ Wallace (Jamal Woolard), who starts out as an innocent child living with his mother (Angela Bassett) in a rough neighbourhood in Brooklyn, and who dreams of one day becoming a rap star. His transformation begins when his D-Roc (Dennis L.A. White) gets him involved into a gang of street hustlers who sell crack cocaine. Biggie finds himself with more money that he ever before dreamed of, but it isn’t long before he runs afoul of the law. When he gets out he decides to clean up his act for the sake of his newly born baby, and through sheer talent and determination sets about making his life long dream of becoming a rapper come true. With the help of Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs (Derek Luke) he defies expectations to become one of the greatest rappers of all time, completely revolutionising hip hop. At the height of his fame, he marries fellow artist Faith Evans (Antonique Smith), having an one the side relationship with Lil Kim (Naturi Naughton), and getting into a deadly rivalry with rapper Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie) that leads to the West Coast vs. East Coast war that culminates in the untimely deaths of both in drive by shootings.

It certainly cannot be said that Notorious is a dull or uneventful film as the life of the real B.I.G. was packed full of incident, and this is reflected in the film. Starting at the end of his life (we are already well aware of how it is going to end), the film proceeds to show his life up to that point, detailing exactly how and why things ended that way. The transformation of the character is shown quite effectively and convincingly, as we see him change from innocent child living in a rough neighbourhood to crack dealing gang member, and then following his dream and becoming one of the most legendary rappers of all time. Most of what happens is completely believable and is aided by environments, situations and dialogue that all ring true to life. However, the film does falter in its handling of certain developments. Some things seem to be skimmed over, and this leads to some confusion over a number of plot and character developments, making it hard to follow some of what is going on. The film never fails to be plausible, however, and much of this could be attributed to the presence of both Voletta Wallace and Sean Combs as producers. Their involvement means that the film is extremely well researched, being put together by people who directly knew Biggie rather than a complete stranger with no direct knowledge of his background. While this is one of the film’s strengths, though, it is also one of its biggest weaknesses. The version of Biggie that we see in this film seems like a sanitised version of the man, with the filmmakers too determined to show him in a positive light and as a result overlooking or underplaying his negative aspects and shortcomings. While at times we see the character doing bad things, the negative actions are never explained or explored thoroughly enough and as such the film does not feel like it is an accurate reflection of the real life of B.I.G. and fails to provide a truly insightful look into his life. This isn’t for lack of trying on the part of the actor who plays him though. Virtually the entire cast deliver strong, believable performances, with the roles all being well cast, even though it is unlikely any of the actors will be winning any awards for their portrayals. Interestingly, the young Biggie is played by the real life son of the man himself. Whenever the actors are required to perform raps they do so with perfect precision, with all the rap sequences being quite expertly performed, and these make for some of the best sequences of the film. Overall, Notorious is a film that doesn’t deliver fully as hoped for, due to its rather one sided representation of the man and slightly disjointed storyline, but it does still make for quite interesting and engaging viewing, and it is definitely a must see for any fans of Notorious B.I.G., even if others won’t be quite as enthralled.


Reviews by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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