Wednesday, February 26, 2020


Rated: PG

STARS: Harrison Ford, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Cara Gee
DIRECTOR: Chris Sanders
GENRE: Action/Adventure

Who Framed Roger Rabbit really started all of this silliness. Real people interacting with cartoon characters. (Real people--not actors! Well, they are actors. Let's not go there). Now it's gotten way, way out of hand. In The Call Of The Wild, the latest adaptation of the classic Jack London novel, the CGI technology has been perfected to a state of "less obvious," but only a little kid might not catch on (and this is definitely a kid movie).

Roger Rabbit was an animated anthropomorphic character. Buck, our canine hero in The Call Of The Wild, is a CGI (computer generated imagery) anthropomorphic character--meaning he's an animal that possesses human characteristics, like critical thinking and facial expressions that indicate he understands everything people are saying to him. 
All the other animals in the film--the dogs, the bears and the birds (minus Clifton Clowers) are CGI creations as well. The technology has come a long way, and you can almost be lulled into believing Buck is real. Until he starts doing a lot of unreal shit.  

Buck starts out having a cushy life with a family in California. He is then dognapped and shipped off to the wilds of the Yukon, where the gold rush of the 1890s has a lot of folks all stirred up. Buck becomes part of a sled dog team for a couple (Omar Sy and Cara Gee) who deliver the mail Pony Express style over the frozen tundra. When the mail route is discontinued, Buck falls into the hands of a mean a cruel owner named Hal ( Dan Stevens). Hal will be confronted by John Thornton, Harrison Ford's character who finally shows up onscreen better late than never. Thornton is kindly but he's a lush, still grieving for his dead son.

Buck and Thornton set off together to live in a cabin in the woods, where more adventure awaits. Buck knows that John's drinking isn't good for him, so he  hides the man's bottle of hooch in the snow. Yeah, I know. It gets more woo-woo from there.

The Call Of The Wild was the very first novel I read as a kid, back when my armpits (and most of the rest of me) were still hairless. It still has a special place in my heart. This movie...not so much. It's a great sappy family film, but I'm not a family guy. And I don't dig the idea of ascribing human traits to noble animals. 

It makes them less noble.

Grade:  C


Collaborators have to learn to compromise and Call Of The Wild was my 'cinematic sacrifice' to Tim who had some boyhood need to see this flick. After endless minutes of animated previews geared strictly for family viewing, I knew I was in for an updated version of Fantasia meets Lassie. So I sat back and simply allowed myself to go with the flow....

I was disillusioned when I got home afterwards and asked my cat to help me unload the groceries. Buck would've done it in a hot tick. Alas, Fattycat could care less. Still, I have to applaud the minions of animatic artists who created these almost-alive animals. When bad things were happening to Buck, I gasped and groaned and cheered him on. It brought me back to when I saw Bambi as a kid. That scene where the deer was killed? I didn't get over that for years. (I still haven't.)

So even though all the animals in Call Of The Wild were computer generated, I was still able to get emotionally involved. And looking around at the audience—all seniors, by the way—I could tell they were emotionally caught up in the story too. There was even some clapping at the end.

Harrison Ford was....well, Harrison Ford. Shaggier, perhaps. But mostly strong and silent. I'm not sorry I saw this movie but it's not for everybody. (I'm just glad Tim has to reciprocate now by seeing The Way Back!)

Grade: B

Thursday, February 6, 2020


Rated: R

STARS: Blake Lively, Jude Law
DIRECTOR: Reed Morano
GENRE: Action/Adventure 

You go into a revenge/vigilante justice movie with a female lead like this one hoping it might be as engaging as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but The Rhythm Section just seems awkwardly out of tune.

Clearly, we are meant to root for our protagonist. But I didn't find her to be that likable of a character as she goes about her bloody eye-for-an-eye quest to avenge her family, who were killed in a plane that was brought down by a terrorist bomb.

When we meet Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively) she's a drug addicted prostitute--apparently brought to this level by the grief she is suffering. She is nervous and fidgety, and she makes you nervous watching her. When asked politely by someone to put out her cigarette, she keeps puffing disdainfully away (I hate that.)

A journalist posing as a client tips her off that the man responsible for making the bomb is right there in London. Geez....what the hell is she gonna do with that? After some soul searching, she seeks out a former MI6 agent (Jude Law) who gives her the standard admonishment that going after this guy isn't going to be worth it. But she's determined, so he puts her through some rigorous paramilitary training (which involves him beating on her a lot until she learns how to fight back), and then she is ready to go kick ass.

While searching for the bomb maker, she learns of other players who were connected to the crime, so she has to go after them too. The stage is set for a lot of hand-to-hand combat, knifings and shootings, and a lot of bouncing off the walls and crap getting smashed up.

The soundtrack is an odd mixture of songs with perhaps unintentional comic undertones. Including: "I'm Waiting for the Man" by the Velvet Underground; "It's Now Or Never" by Elvis; "I'm Sorry" from Brenda Lee; and "Dream A Little Dream of Me" by the lovely Mama Cass. 

The Islamic terrorist types she's going after are strangers to her and to us, known only by name until she encounters them. We are shown no backstory on these guys, so there's no emotional investment for us to say yeah, get this dude because he's pure evil! 

There's a twist at the end which shows you really can't trust anybody or anything (especially the impressions you get from looking at movie trailers!)

About halfway through I was doing a George H.W. Bush and looking at my watch, and that's never a good sign. 

Grade:  D


What a sorry way to begin reviewing the new batch of 2020 movies! Until Jude Law came on the scene, it was all I could do to keep my eyes open. And who the hell is Blake Lively? Her film credits are remarkably unmemorable and, as far as I can tell, her biggest accomplishment so far has been marrying Ryan Reynolds.

As far as her role in The Rhythm Section goes, I give her high marks for looking realistically prostitutional and for working her ass off in all the (oh god, not another one!) fight scenes. For all you victimized women out there, this movie would probably be cathartic for you. Me? I felt victimized by the movie itself....

So many characters, so little time to get to love or hate them. I recognized some of the actors and found myself pondering where I'd seen them before rather than paying attention to the plot. Aha! Sterling K. Brown (one of the numerous bad guys) is in NBC's popular TV series "This Is Us." And Raza Jeffrey (was he another bad guy or the journalist?) appeared in Showtime's "Homeland." Believe me, this film will definitely not help their careers.

The only positive thing I can say about The Rhythm Section is you get to see a lot of great shots of different cities: Tangiers, London, New York, etc. Hats off to cinematographer Sean Bobbitt. (No relation to Lorena's hubby, hopefully!)

Tim and I are on the same cinematic page with this one.

Grade: D