Tag Archives: Dustin Hoffman

Fourth Helping of Dumplings

Kung Fu Panda 4

by Hope Madden

Animated sequels often work out. Every time you think “Do we really need another Toy Story?” you get one more cartoon masterpiece. Each How to Train Your Dragon movie is a stunner. And Puss in Boots: The Last Wish was not only better than any previous Puss in Boots film, it was better than any Shrek film.

So why not a fourth Kung Fu Panda? Literally no one expected the 2008 original to be a charming, lovely, thoroughly entertaining Oscar nominee. A couple more episodes in and maybe directors Mike Mitchell and Stephanie Stine have the power to entirely reimagine this franchise, find a universal truth and existential meaning that allows this installment to transcend its late-stage sequel position, a la Toy Story 3. Or Toy Story 4.

No, but it’s cute.

Po (Jack Black, lovable even if it’s only his voice) has been named the spiritual leader of the Valley of Peace, which means he must find his successor as Dragon Warrior. But he doesn’t want to. He finally found something he’s good at—kicking butt—and he’s kind of famous for it. And maybe he just fears change.

But all this successor stuff will have to wait. The Chameleon (Viola F. Davis) has a nefarious plan that needs thwarting and Po’s off to handle the situation with the help of this little thieving fox (Awkwafina, who may be voicing every animated film to come out, but she’s great at it).

Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) is disappointed. Naturally.

Hoffman is one of only a handful of returning voice talent—Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogan, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu and David Cross are noticeably absent. But Ian McShane returns, and that’s a voice we can all listen to all day long, villainous or not. Plus, there’s more room for new characters.

Davis is characteristically wonderful as the evildoer, but it’s really the budding relationship between frenemies Po and Zhen (Awkwafina) that compels interest. Not every actor can carry off animation, but both Black and Awkwafina shine.

The animation is good looking enough. It’s not gorgeous, but it’s nice. The action is fun, the characters are funny enough, and the lessons are solid. And there are these three bloodthirsty little bunnies, and I am a fan.

Kung Fu Panda 4 breaks no new ground, transcends no limitations, but it entertains throughout and delivers a pleasant bit of family-friendly fun. Plus reimagined Ozzy and Britney are a delight.

All In the Family

Sam & Kate

by Hope Madden

Film right now is littered with “geezer teasers” – lowish budget action flicks with inflated cameos from aging actors who were once the world’s biggest box office draws. Bruce Willis and John Travolta have one right now. Mel Gibson has one every other week.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to see a film that casts veteran actors in challenging roles that respect the actor, their age, and the audience? Yes, it would. The proof is called Kate & Sam.

Dustin Hoffman and Sissy Spacek co-star in the indie dramedy about resilience, grief and family. Hoffman’s Bill, a boisterous widowed veteran, lives modestly with his good-natured son, Sam (Jake Hoffman, coincidentally Dustin Hoffman’s actual son).

Father and son fall, almost simultaneously, for Spacek’s Tina and her daughter, Kate (Schuyler Fisk, coincidentally Spacek’s daughter – not that you could miss it with that pointed little nose).

As much as the family ties may seem like a gimmick, the truth is that they bring unmistakable depth and rapport to the pairings. Writer/director Darren Le Gallo mines this repeatedly in large and small ways to create a believable, rich environment for pathos and love. Even small details breathe with authenticity touched lightly by nostalgia. You can imagine Bill’s recliner and afghan perhaps belonging to Le Gallo’s own father, while the stash of family photos clearly, sweetly come from the Hoffmans.

Le Gallo never condescends, mercifully. His small town is possibly hipper than most, but the way the film expresses a healthy respect for vintage materials is impressive.

Spacek is the adorable, natural presence she’s always been in a film that looks without mockery but with humor at the toll life takes on us all. She and Hoffman are, as expected, excellent. But they never outshine their kids.

Fisk’s elegant, frustrated Kate is a solid anchor for the film’s drama, but Jake Hoffman is its heartbeat. With him in the lead, Le Gallo is able to make a lot of subtle points about fathers and sons, masculinity and acceptance. Most of all, the film balances loss and resilience beautifully.

Le Gallo’s first feature delivers grace and goodwill in ways that are genuinely uncommon. It doesn’t tell a big story, but the story it tells resonates. Yes, he lucked into a dream cast, but they may have been luckier still to have him.