The Call of the Wild

March 10, 2020

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From the novel of the same name by Jack London

Buck the Dog goes from being a house pet to lead dog on a dog sled in Alaska during the Alaska Gold Rush at the turn of the last century.

If you are the one person on earth who doesn’t know how this ends, there is a SPOILER below. However, the dog DOES NOT DIE. That’s not a spoiler, it’s Otter’s Law of Animals in Movies. I don’t go see movies where the animal dies if I can avoid them.

I went to see this with my friend Dr. Turquoise; neither of us had high expectations, except for the certainty that the CGI dog would be awful, but it was a movie and what the heck.

She was pleasantly surprised to discover that our local emporium du movies had comfy recliner seats; I don’t know how long it’s been since she went to a movie theater…!

The book this movie is based on has been considered a childhood/YA classic for many years; it was London’s first big writing success, and has remained in print since publication. It’s one of those books everyone has heard of, whether or not they’ve read it. And to be honest, I think I read it back when I was a young Otter, but I couldn’t swear to it…probably time to download it to my Kindle.

Anyway. The story takes Buck from being the huge rambunctious family dog in Santa Clara County CA, through being kidnapped and sent to Alaska, where there was such a demand for dogs to pull sleds that this was a common thing on the West coast at the time. He runs into Harrison Ford a couple of times, then ends up with him in the wilderness, where he (the dog, not Ford) meets a pack of wolves and finally joins them.

But what about Buck, the main character/dog/CGI extravaganza?

He was actually damn realistic. I kept thinking, “that’s one well-trained dog…oh, right, it’s CGI”. Amazingly good.

Harrison Ford was also pretty good, and knew enough to NOT chew too much scenery and let the dog take center stage, so that was good.

What was NOT good was the villain. The city slicker (you can tell from his clothes) who does the stupidest things ever and yet DOES NOT DIE. He takes an overloaded team out into the wilderness with his two buddies, and even after Ford has cut Buck, the lead dog, free, the team goes (totally unbelieveable, a dog team ALWAYS has to have a lead dog to follow). After the sled crashes and the dogs “run off” (and his companions, one a woman, are never mentioned again) he manages to find his way back and cause  trouble again. And he does other completely unbelieveable stuff that just had me rolling my eyes, but I won’t give away the rest of the plot. So that’s the weakest part of this movie; otherwise, it was pretty good, and we enjoyed it.

A good kids’ movie that adults can watch without suffering.


Birds of Prey

March 10, 2020

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Subtitle: And the Fabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

The aforementioned Harley Quinn leaves the Joker for good and ventures out on a life of crime on her own. Shenanigans!

I liked Margot Robbie in Suicide Squad, and was looking forward to this movie, DC’s track record notwithstanding. And…well…it was okay.

The Joker kicks Harley out, and she decides (finally) that she is not going to go crawling back to him and that they are through for good, and she tells EVERYONE this. Which means that she is no longer under his aegis, and is fair game for everyone she has ever pissed off to take revenge on. And of course she wants to continue her life of crime, so she pisses off more people who want to do her in. And there’s a very valuable diamond that goes missing…and you get the picture.

I wanted to like this. It was written and directed by women, and the only members of the cast who have actual roles (rather than just being thugs and bad guys) are women (although the major bad guy is Ewan MacGregor, that’s nice.) The writing is smart and funny, the fight scenes are great, the plot moves, there’s snappy dialogue and hilarious graffiti-like additions to the action.

And yet. I did like it, but I didn’t give one single damn about any of the characters…not Harley, not Rosie Perez as the policewoman who ends up having to join Harley to do her job, not the cute Asian girl who starts everyone chasing the mcguffin, not anyone. So the ride was fun, but at the end of the day, I didn’t really care, and it certainly doesn’t make me want to see any sequel to this movie…

Otter says meh.


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

February 4, 2020

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From the book of the same title by Jules Verne.

A group of scientists trying to find out what has happened to a missing ship in the early 1800s finds a reclusive misanthrope who lives in a submarine and takes his revenge on the world by attacking merchant ships and military vessels.

This was one of my favorite books when I was a young otter, and I have to say that Disney cheesiness aside, it’s a heck of a movie. Mr. Otter has loved this movie since he first saw it in the theater, and showed it to me many years ago.

Kirk Douglas is the main character and comedy relief, as a harpooner who is invited to join Professor Aronnax’s expedition to find the missing ship; after they do come across Nemo, they realize they must stop him.

James Mason is wonderful as Nemo, as he on the one hand proudly shows off all his scientific innovations and on the other foams at the mouth when talking about the evils of modern society. Douglas is amusing and well cast, and Peter Lorre is the professor’s much-put-upon assistant. There is also a sea lion mascot, and a giant squid attack. Who could ask for more?

This is just fun to watch, no history or science brain needed.

 


The Enemy Below

February 4, 2020

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From the novel with the same name by D. A. Rayner.

A U-boat captain and the captain of an American destroyer play cat-and-mouse across the Atlantic.

It was the New Year’s Day Videofest, and our theme was Under Water. I had warned Ottersis and Mr. Otter that there would only be ONE submarines-at-war movie, because my tolerance is low, and this is the one that Mr. Otter chose.

And it was good! Both Mitchum (the American captain) and Curt Jurgens (the German captain) were excellent. The plot was suspenseful without being either too “Americans good, Nazis bad” preachy, and the Germans, as well as the Americans, had real personalities.

There were some technical ‘how a boat works’ details, not overwhelming but interesting, and the denouement was very good.

I’ve seen some bad submarine movies (K-19, I’m looking at you here), and some of them are just ‘guys in a box’…but this was a great choice!

 


Macbeth (1961)

November 15, 2019

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From the play of the same name by William Shakespeare.

Aaah,  the Scottish Play. With the Scottish Sean Connery. Back when he was seriously young and not well known, a year before Dr. No.

This is one of those 60s television theater productions, with minimal scenery, stark lighting and very earnest actors…and you know, Sean isn’t half bad, although then as now he tended to run his words together almost unintelligibly. There was nobody else in the production that I had ever heard of, but they were all good, probably bright lights of the TV theater scene at the time.

This is a pretty well done production, and worth seeing. Although they don’t cut off Macbeth’s head in the end and parade around with it, for some reason, even though that’s a high point of the play…


Michael Collins

June 22, 2019

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Biopic of one of the major figures in the Irish War for Independence.

Mr. Otter and I had just come back from Ireland, and were watching some movies that had to do with the people and places we’d been…he was surprised that I hadn’t seen this, since Serious Honey Liam Neeson plays the title role.

So we watched it one night, and it was mostly very good. As far as I can tell it was pretty historically accurate; costumes and settings were good. The movie focused as much on Collins’ personal life as it did his politics and various roles in the War for Independence. And Neeson was very good as Colliins, as was pretty much everyone in this movie (there’s an added bonus of Alan Rickman as Eamon de Valera)…except Julia Roberts, who played Kitty Kiernan, who was romantically involved with both Collins and his best friend, Harry Boland.

Which is a great story- a real-life romantic triangle set against the backdrop of nasty politics and the struggle for freedom.

If only Julia Roberts hadn’t been cast…sure, she’s pretty, she can act some…but she didn’t look, sound or act Irish or like a woman of the time. She stood out like a sore thumb in pretty much every scene she was in. If they had tattooed HEY I’M JULIA ROBERTS on her forehead it wouldn’t have been less distracting.

Otherwise? A fine movie, full of all the things that make movies good. But I’m downgrading it one $ for Roberts; I didn’t know she was in it when we started watching it…


The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

May 10, 2019

lego2

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Five years after Emmet saves the world, Lego Duplos attack and, well, the world must be saved again…

And what I say below might be construed as SPOILERSso you’ve been warned.

So yes, I loved the first Lego Movie. I loved the Lego Batman Movie. So of course I had to see this one!

And…it was good. Amusing, well written, great characters and plot. But since the audience is in on the joke, that this is a world that Will Ferrell’s kids are making (and the problem in this one is that Finn’s younger sister is now allowed to play with the area in the basement with all the Legos. In the real world, when she fights with Finn and breaks his built stuff, it happens in the Lego world too, and everyone has to find a solution.

All our favorite characters are back, and many new ones besides; the animation is awesome, and the storyline is very satisfying.

This was funny and charming…the audience was in on the joke, so it wasn’t as OMG HOW AMAZING as the first one, but it was a worthy sequel and I liked it a lot.


Black Narcissus

February 8, 2019

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From the novel of the same name by Rumer Godden

Five nuns open a convent in the Himalayas. Stuff happens.

Mr. Otter and I hosted the New Year’s Day Videofest 2019, and the theme was Best Cinematography Oscar. We always choose eight movies, and watch as many as we can between 10 am and 9ish pm…that usually makes it 5 or 6 movies. This was one of them, but did not get chosen in our random drawings.

But we had really wanted to see it, so a night or two later we queued it up and watched it.

So these nuns are to establish a convent in a palace in the Himalayas that has been donated to the church by the general who runs the local town/area. Five nuns are sent there, and of course things happen. The isolation and being cooped up together, so to speak, cause all kinds of friction; plus there are various locals who add to the problems.

This is a pretty good drama combining interpersonal dynamics, the past coming back to haunt some of the characters, and outside influences that can’t be controlled.

And the Oscar is well deserved, it was beautifully filmed in black and white, with luminous lighting and amazing light and shadows.

Worth watching, we enjoyed it.


The Student Prince

February 1, 2019
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A prince goes to school in Heidelberg to learn how to socialize instead of being way too formal and stuffy, and in the process falls in love with a barmaid in the tavern where the students hang out.

This is a Sigmund Romberg musical, and being fans of Nelson and Jeannette as we are chez Otter, I had wanted to see this for the longest time, and since Mr. Otter had not watched it in many years, we indulged ourselves.

The story is okay, although it’s been done many times before. The songs are good, especially (of course) the drinking song. The best part is Mario Lanza’s amazing voice.

Lanza had originally been cast to play the Prince, but he and the director started snarling at each other, Lanza walked off and was forbidden to do any voice work of any kind for over a year (the length of his contract for the movie) and they settled by Lanza recording the songs to be dubbed for another actor, Edmond Purdom, who is quite easy on the eye in this movie.

So this is cheesy fun, but it is enough fun to be watchable. Purdom and Ann Blyth (the barmaid) are good together, and he goes from an officious stick to a real guy very nicely.

An amusing evenings watching, especially if you join in on the drinking.


The Ugly American

September 21, 2018

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From the novel of the same name by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick.

Mr. Otter brought this home, and we watched it. He had read the book, which I hadn’t, and I knew nothing about it except the current usage of the phrase, which is Americans going to other countries and behaving like complete assholes.

So this is about a fictitious Southeast Asian country named Sarkan, that has a northern half that has become Communist, and they and the Chinese are trying to take over the rest of the country…sound familiar? Yup, it’s Vietnam; I figured that out after about ten minutes, it’s really obvious. Brando is the new ambassador, sent there to make sure the new road through the country that the Americans are building (“Freedom Road”) goes through, after some sabotage halts construction.

Brando’s character has a close Sarkanese friend who is being led astray by those darn Communists, so that’s a huge plot point with much political talk, and he is also friends with two Americans who run a hospital for children that is much needed and appreciated.

Eventually it all goes pear-shaped, mostly due to misunderstandings and the machinations of those doggone Communists, and the Americans have to leave. Not really a spoiler, it’s obvious where the plot is going.

This was pretty heavy-handed, but since it was made in 1963 about current political events, that’s not surprising. I was surprised, though, when I was talking to Mr. Otter a few days later- he used the phrase Ugly American, and I said, I assume that movie is where the phrase came from, but Brando wasn’t what the phrase means now, he really appreciated the country, tried to follow the customs and respect the people, but was misinformed.

Mr. Otter said no, the eponymous Ugly American was the American doctor, who the local people considered to be ugly although they loved him anyway. Huh? Really, said Mr. Otter, I read the book, it was him.

O-kaaaay. So there you have it.

If you like heavy-handed political drama, or seeing history from the contemporaneous point of view, this is your movie. But be warned, Brando is already in mumble-mode in 1963, it was sometimes very hard to understand him.