All posts by One Guys Opinion

Dr. Frank Swietek is Associate Professor of History at the University of Dallas, where he is regarded as a particularly tough grader. He has been the film critic of the University News since 1988, and has discussed movies on air at KRLD-AM (Dallas) and KOMO-AM (Seattle). He is also the Founding President of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics' Association, a group of print and broadcast journalists covering film in the Metroplex area, and was a charter member of the Society of Texas Film Critics. Dr. Swietek is a member of the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). He was instrumental in the creation of the Lone Star Awards, which, through the efforts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Film Commission, give recognition annually to the best feature films and television programs produced in Texas.

SHOW DOGS

Producer: Deepak Nayar and Philip von Alvensleben
Director: Raja Gosnell
Writer: Max Botkin and Marc Hyman
Stars: Will Arnell, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Natasha Lyonne, Jordin Sparks, Stanley Tucci, Alan Cumming, Gabriel Iglesias, Shaquille O'Neal, Omar Chaparro, RuPaul, Oliver Tempsett and Andy Beckwith
Studio: Global Road Entertainment

D

This talking dog movie, mostly live action but with animated elements, is a real mutt, a would-be family movie so flat-pawed that it will fail to entertain viewers at any point on the age spectrum. Unlike director Raja Gosnell’s previous effort along similar lines, “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” no classic but at least tolerable, “Show Dogs” is simply a bad idea poorly executed, as awful on the canine side as “Nine Lives” was on the feline. Our pets deserve better than this cruddy kiddie take on “Turner & Hooch” and “K-9.”

The premise is that dogs (and apparently some other critters, like a trio of kibitzing pigeons) can converse with each other, though humans can’t hear them. Despite that interspecies problem, dogs are employed at the NYPD, the most notable of them, a Rottweiler named Max (voiced by Chris Bridges, doing New York gruffness). When Max’s intervention upsets an FBI sting on a bunch of crooks transporting a stolen baby panda for auction, he’s partnered up with chief agent Frank (Will Arnett) to pose as entrants in a Las Vegas dog show where, it’s been discovered, the panda will be sold. Since Max is not exactly prize material, he breaks an old champion on the show circuit, French Papillon Philippe (Stanley Tucci), out of the dog pound and persuades him to offer a few pointers.

At the show, things naturally go Max’s way. He’ll do well in the various competitive events, always by running them in unorthodox ways. He will find a romantic interest in Daisy (Jordin Sparks), who initially finds him irritating (Frank will similarly bumble into an incipient romance with dog groomer Mattie, played by Natasha Lyonne). And, of course, the partners will not only unmask the villain behind the plot to sell rare animals to the highest bidders, but prevent his escape in a big airport confrontation.

Lots of stars chip in voices for other dogs at the show—Alan Cumming as Dante, the arrogant current champ; Gabriel Iglesias as Sprinkles, a pug who’s one of Philippe’s biggest fans; Shaquille O’Neal as Karma, one easygoing Komondar; and RuPaul as Persephone, who has secrets of her own. None of them offer significant compensation for the lame dialogue, lackadaisical direction, overwrought turns by the human actors (especially Arnell) and animation of the dogs’ moving mouths that’s about as impressive as what you’re likely to see every day in TV commercials. That the picture also has a chintzy look generally is simply to say that it’s no more impressive in terms of overall execution than it is in terms of its (lack of) inspiration.

The one surprise in “Show Dogs” comes when Max tries to romance Daisy with a rooftop spaghetti dinner modeled after “Lady and the Tramp.” That’s hardly unusual, but one of those pesky pigeons, who have flown from New York to Nevada to observe his adventures, points out that he’s cribbing the bit. What the bird doesn’t mention is that it’s taken from a far superior movie, one that the makers have not been wise to invite comparison to. These “Dogs” deserve the old vaudeville hook.

POPE FRANCIS: A MAN OF HIS WORD

Producer: Samanta Gandolfi Branca, Alessandro Lo Monaco and Andrea Gambetta
Director: Wim Wenders
Writer: Wim Wenders and David Rosier
Stars: Pope Francis I
Studio: Roadside Attractions

B

Wim Wenders is an idiosyncratic—not to mention terribly uneven—filmmaker, but his approach in “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word” is utterly conventional, as well as deeply admiring of his subject. In fact, there’s not a discouraging word to be heard in the film, nor any uncomfortable questions asked. Still, it does provide a portrait of the world’s most important religious leader answering direct questions in a straightforward fashion, even if they’re basically softballs.

The picture falls primarily into two sections, which are juxtaposed throughout. One, narrated by Wenders (who also co-wrote the script), consists of archival footage of Francis speaking to or traveling before crowds at various locales he has visited—including prisons, homeless shelters, refugee camps, and hospitals—throughout the world, often washing the feet of prisoners and patients in a gesture of Christian humility. In one episode, he sympathizes with survivors in the typhoon-ravaged Philippines; in another he watches in horror scenes of refugees toppling off boats in the Mediterranean as they try to reach Italy. Only one clip shows him prior to his papacy—as archbishop of Buenos Aires he addresses an outdoor crowd to encourage expressions of amity among them—a public display of the “sign of peace” found in the Vatican II liturgy.

The second major element is composed of answers to questions that Francis addresses directly to the camera. These show him to be fundamentally a pastoral pope, replying not with long, theologically intricate responses but in simple (some might say simplistic) language that consistently emphasizes his desire for the church to be “the church of the poor,” fighting materialism and greed in favor of the marginalized and dispossessed. He speaks eloquently of the need to put people before profit, and to recognize the obligation to preserve the planet for humanity—he is not a person who questions the science behind climate change or denies that it is one of the greatest challenges facing the world today.

It might be argued that the pope is not sufficiently pressed on some contemporary issues. Gay rights are limited to a clip of his famous television interview in which he asked, “Who am I to judge?” and the role of women in the church is not directly confronted, though he certainly exalts the importance of their contributions to society in general and emphasizes the family, and a meeting with an elderly nun from his past, whom he notices in the crowd during his travels and insists on hugging personally, is genuinely touching. He is more forthright on the matter of clerical abuse of children, though even here his words can be criticized for lacking specificity.

The difficulties Francis faces in reforming an institution that some see as fossilized in its ways are revealed in one archival section, in which he addresses the College of Cardinals about what he enumerates as the failings among the clergy. He calls for all to devote themselves to lives of service to their flocks rather than acquisition of power, goods and reputation, and he particularly warns against pride and competitiveness. But as the camera pans across the faces of the prelates, what one detects is more grumpiness than agreement.

There is a third element to “Pope Francis,” though by far the shortest. It consists of newly-filmed inserts showing scenes from the life of St. Francis of Assisi, all in black-and-white and distressed to look like period footage. They emphasize the saint’s calls for peace, his embrace of poverty, and his sense of communality with the natural world, and Wenders is not shy about blending them into his portrait of the pope, to suggest that Francis, by taking the saint’s name, has also adopted him as a model. That adds a hagiographic touch that some might see as going a bit too far.

But there is no doubt that the man who emerges from “Pope Francis,” nicely edited by Maxine Goedicke, is an affable, lovable person who cherishes a sense of humor and feels deeply for those who are not part of modern society’s elite and seeks to associate himself, and the church he leads, with them. It is a well-drawn if incomplete portrait that will inspire millions of Francis’ admirers, whether they are Catholics or not.