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Life Through the Lens: All the world’s a stage

“If you wish to be the king of the jungle, it’s not enough to act like a king. You must be the king. There can be no doubt.”

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So much of life is acting. Acting like you have it all together. Acting like you know what you are doing. Acting like you know where you are going. Acting like you are in control. Acting like you know the answer (while you are secretly praying for a pass). Acting like you understand the joke everyone else is laughing at. Acting like you just crawled out of bed looking like that. Acting like you couldn’t care less (when you are secretly crushed). Acting like you didn’t just slip in the hallway, making it into a little dance move or a skip-in-your-step. Acting calm. Acting confident. Acting comfortable. Acting contagious.

Whether you want to admit it or not, so much of life is acting.

Teaching freshmen is basically witnessing 130 kids practice their acting skills on a daily basis. For someone to be “genuine” or “authentic” is a rarity; this stage in life seldom produces sincerity. I can honestly say, though, it isn’t their fault – it is a fact of life: teenage-years are frequently spent experimenting and exaggerating.

It is equal-parts hilarious and heartbreaking to watch. Each child is acting to their surroundings. Each child is projecting and protecting an image. Each child is conscious of shortcomings and quick to apply a mask. Each child is desperate to be real but convinced that realness will be rejected. Each child sees a sea of certainty surround them…when in truth every person around them is an actor just like themselves.

I remember the moment when I dropped “the act.” As far as life experiences and watershed moments, this ranks at the top. There is a peace that quickly follows the liberation from “acting.” What seemed so scary – embracing unaffected authenticity and flawed fact – is, in the long run, completely freeing. So what if I am lost. So what if I am confused. I still find myself acting from time to time, but I spend as much time as possible in the land of the living. I’ll leave the acting to the professionals.

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Although once-upon-a-time Dr. Dolittle was successful and acclaimed, recent times have found him reclusive and phobic. Since the death of his wife/partner, Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) has avoided all human contact and connection and, instead, relied on his…special talent: communicating with animals. In his once-glorious yet now-dilapidated mansion, Dolittle does very little.

All that changes when the dying queen of England sends an urgent message to Dolittle: either a magical plant and antidote is found or the queen will perish. Dolittle embarks on a reluctant-adventure to rekindle his lost passions and reclaim his place in the world of relevance.

[Internal monologue] How can I rip this movie apart and still be kind? How can I be professional and resist the urge to BOOO this movie? I know! I’ll start with a short anecdote!

When the movie was over, I hesitantly asked my kids their opinions. If I say MY opinions too quickly, my kids tend to just agree with me. When asked, they seemed to enjoy the movie but without much gusto. My son then asked me, “What was your favorite part, Dad?” And you know what…I literally couldn’t think of one thing I liked about this movie! I couldn’t think of one moment, one joke, one character that brought me joy. Sarcastically, my answer to my son was: “When it was over?”

The movie’s direction was muddy and confusing. Director Stephen Gaghan, Oscar award winner for writing “Traffic,” seemed to be lost in the fantasy without ever touching base with reality. His product, in the end, had no drive, no motivation, and no direction. It was a half-hearted attempt to pander to children…losing everyone along the way.

The biggest disappointment to me was Robert Downey Jr’s performance. I could see the other problems coming…but this was truly shocking! He is usually a steady-source of comedy and sarcasm; his quirky humor is oftentimes over-the-top and approaching overwhelming. But this? It is as if his body accepted the role of Dolittle, but his heart decided to sit this one out. He is the equivalent of a cardboard marketing-prop placed in front of a green-screen for two hours. If you just shake it every 20 seconds or so, the CGI polar bear will crack a joke and off to a new scene!

Overall, the movie is soulless. It is void of emotion, void of comedy and void of purpose.

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“The Gentlemen” begins with private investigator Fletcher (Hugh Grant) offering to sell a mysterious screenplay to dangerous men. Turns out, this screenplay is the result of tailing and trailing famous drug-lord Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey). He has found enough dirt to do real damage…but who gets the document?

Fletcher has uncovered the truth about Mickey: he is a born-from-nothing Rhodes Scholar who learned that REAL money is not found in academia…it is found in marijuana. Mickey has since created a one-of-a-kind operation above reproach and beyond compare. But as Fletcher is quick to divulge, Mickey wants out of the game. He is secretly-shopping around possible buyouts.

The question becomes: who can you trust when what you deal are lies? Can Mickey trust his second-in-command Ray (Charlie Hunnam)? Can Mickey trust his potential buyer Matthew (Jeremy Strong)? Can he trust his newly-found muscle Coach (Colin Farrell)? Can he trust his upstart competition Dry Eye (Tom Wu)? Every character has motives to mistreat but reasons to rely.

This is not the type of “lifestyle” from which you can merely walk away.

I am a huge fan of director Guy Richie. He has his finger on “cool” and “crisp.” With his eye for interesting detail and his vision for complex-yet-accessible stories, he weaves a fascinating tale like few others. This movie has all of that…but maybe not to the scale of some of his previous work. It feels a tad forced in pieces, a bit contrived. His reliance on shock-and-awe might uncover some holes. With that being said, it is still very enjoyable and fresh.

I enjoyed many of the performances. McConaughey is great as Mickey – he brings a messy sophistication to his role. Hunnam is good as Ray, both funny and mysterious. Grant is hilarious and sleazy as Fletcher: hard to like but impossible not to root for. Colin Farrell is a standout as Coach – he is funny, touching, and a wee-bit psycho. Farrell and his gang have some epic scenes, including a memorable fight-video.

With enough innovative scenes and edits, with great acting and a satisfying payoff, the movie rises to ranks of “good but not perfect.”

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REPORT CARD: Dolittle

Grade: D-

Comment: No exaggeration: it is without merit

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REPORT CARD: The Gentlemen

Grade: B+

Comment: Harsh, brash, quick, and unforgiving…in a good way

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