The Physician is one of the best epic adventure films I’ve ever seen—there that pretty much says it. However, the folks at Influx will not allow single-sentence reviews, so I suppose I should talk about the movie a bit and explain why I enjoyed it so much.
The film begins in England during the Middle Ages. A boy watches his mother die and no one can help. After all, there aren’t any doctors and medicine is extremely primitive. Having no place to live, he takes up with the closest thing they have to a doctor—a barber! The guy is very gruff and his knowledge of medicine is negligible but young Rob Cole (Thomas Payne) learns what he can from his new guardian—including very, very basic surgery, since in those days, barbers often supplemented their income with such procedures. Later, when Rob’s guardian loses his sight, a Jewish surgeon does cataract surgery! Rob is intrigued—where DID this man learn such advanced techniques? He learns that there is a medical school but unfortunately it’s in the East…in Muslim land. And Christians are NOT welcome there. So Rob comes up with a seemingly insane plan—to pose as a Jew and enroll in the school. I know what you might be thinking…yes, Jews were treated well in Muslim lands at the time and were quite welcome. And, the only hospitals and true doctors in the world were in these same lands.
The first thing Rob needs to do is a VERY painful thing indeed. To make himself appear to be a Jew, he not only cuts his hair but his schmeckle. I would say more, but just don’t know if Influx will let me elaborate further. Suffice to say, it was a very painful but relatively minor operation! Then, he joins a caravan heading East. Along the way, he meets a beautiful Jewish woman and you KNOW that more will come of this relationship—but that comes much, much later in the film. In the meantime, Rob must survive a killer sand storm, find the medical school and somehow get himself admitted. What’s next? Well, what I’ve told you occurs only in the first 45 minutes or so—and the film has nearly another two hours! But, considering how exciting Rob’s adventures are, you won’t find yourself squirming or getting bored! All too often, I’ve found epic films have great difficulty maintaining their pace—this is certainly NOT a problem here.
This movie has nearly everything going for it. The script is very intelligent, engaging and fascinating. Rarely is history made this fascinating in movies—but this fictionalized story is sprinkled with interesting tidbits about the times, the way folks lived and what it was like to be a doctor in the so-called ‘Dark Ages’. Excellent acting is also evident throughout—with Ben Kingsley providing a nice bit of class and an excellent performance as Rob’s teacher. However, it’s not all Kingsley. Despite a lot of relatively unknown actors, they deliver the goods. In particular, Tom Payne is quite good in the lead. Add to the acting great cinematography, excellent direction, a wonderful soundtrack and a real sense of escapism, and you have a heck of a film.
So if I enjoyed the film THIS much, why didn’t I score it an A+? Well, I rarely would give such a score to any film—and this one nearly earned it. However, I was a bit irritated that such a great history lesson would include quite a bit of nudity, as the film otherwise would have been wonderful for teens. Why did they have to do this when the film didn’t need any of this to advance the plot? I might still consider recommending the film for teens but understand that many parents would blanch at letting their kids watch a rated R film. I very, very minor trimming (which would have done nothing to harm the plot) could have easily made this one PG-13…and would have earned the highest possible mark from me.
Finally, the editors of Influx Magazine have asked me to watch a film that is right up my alley. This is because one of the many dubious distinctions I have as an insanely compulsive movie viewer is that I have seen perhaps EVERY Little Rascals short that is currently available. I say ‘currently available’ because quite a few of their early films have simply disappeared—decomposed like so many of the nitrate film stock films during the first half of the 20th century. It’s a shame, as the silent films in the series that exist today are among the very best of the series.
The Little Rascals were brought to the screen by Hal Roach Studios—the same folks who brought us Laurel & Hardy as well as quite a few other wonderful comedians, like Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chase. Is this new version of the Little Rascals up to the same quality and spirit as the older, original films? Or, even as good as the pleasant re-boot they brought out in 1994? I sure hoped so when the film began!
This family film has a LOT of familiar elements if you are familiar with the old films. I appreciate this, as most folks who will watch this movie will have never seen the original films. So, they didn’t have to replicate the style and look of the old shorts. But SOMEONE associated with this film thought it was important to be faithful to the franchise—and I really appreciated that. A few examples of the old Little Rascals elements are when the boys tried to skip school and end up missing out on a party (I’ve seen this in two other Rascals films—one with an ice cream party and the other where the teacher took them to an amusement park—and the boys missed out on this because they played hooky), all the more familiar old characters from the franchise’s most familiar period (with Porky, Buckwheat, Darla, Alfalfa and Spanky—as well as villains like Butch and Waldo), Miss Crabtree, the kids’ taxi and much more. On top of that, the marquee at the theater, if you look carefully refers to a Hal Roach Film Festival and the emcee of the talent show is Leo McCarey! McCarey was a brilliant director who worked for Roach and directed many of the Rascals films (he later went on to become a top director of full-length films).
The plot involves Grandma (Doris Roberts) who about to lose her business. She needs $10,000 fast and the kids all decide to help her. However, the Rascals’ plans are all terrible and backfire badly—and it’s kind of cute seeing them turn everyone’s pets green (among other things). Eventually, as a last ditch, they decide to enter the kids talent show—and first prize is, of course, $10,000. Who will win—the Rascals or the insufferable Waldo? What do you think?!
I am sure that the film will appeal to kids and their parents (and grandparents), though I am not sure if it will appeal to teens. Teens will probably find it all a bit mushy and predictable…which is true. But it’s well made mush! Plus, it’s nice to have a film that will appeal to parents and kids alike…so leave your picky teens at home and enjoy or lock them in their rooms if you decide to buy the video! Overall, this is a cute and surprisingly well made and enjoyable family film—and a bit better than the 1994 film.