The Call of the Wild

March 10, 2020

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

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.


City Beneath the Sea

February 4, 2020

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A city beneath the sea. Alien attacks. Irwin Allen. What more do you need to know?

We knew this would be cheesy going into it…Irwin Allen, for those of you who missed the 1970s, is synonymous with big (or low, in this case) budget disaster movies, his two most famous being The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. This…is not of that calibre.

This is a silly, low-budget, badly written filler of a movie. The sets are slightly futuristic but minimally so to keep them cheap; I was about to say they were on a par with low-budget tv series of the time, and looked on IMDB and found that this was indeed a made-for-tv movie. Nuf sed. The costumes lean towards jumpsuits for the men and tight miniskirts for the women, because the future will of course be like that. The writing is abysmal, about the level of a 1930s serial movie like Flash Gordon. This movie is only good to make fun of, which we did.

Otherwise, don’t waste your time on this dog.

 


Joker

November 15, 2019

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Instead of the origin story of a superhero, we get that of a supervillain, the eponymous Joker.

There has been a lot of controversy about this movie, which is basically about the rise of a crazed serial killer; those who oppose it say that this is another example of glorified violence. Personally, I think the movie made the Joker and his life look damn unattractive, but that’s just my opinion. I did think it was brilliant and that Joaquin Phoenix (who is a favorite actor Chez Otter) deserves a damn Oscar for this. He was that good.

And now I’m going to venture into SPOILERLAND, so if you don’t want to find out anything about what happens, stop here.

So wow. I had tried to see this for a month, even attempting to get to a movie theater while on vacation, and it just didn’t work out…then I suddenly found myself with an afternoon free (anomalous for me) and just went ahead and did it…and I’m so glad I did.

This is the slow descent into madness of a serial killer, and Phoenix brings out every nuance of crazy. He is believeable, sociopathic, and scary as hell. I can see why it got huge acclaim at the Venice and Cannes festivals; it’s not about capes or superpowers, it’s just about this one guy and watching him live his life.

The one thing that I found odd was his last interaction with the woman and child he’s fixated on…did he kill them? He just left their apartment, but nothing was shown…I found out later that all his interactions with her were imaginary, from meeting in the elevator onwards; this makes more sense than that she (especially being the mother of a young child) would have ANYTHING to do with him, but I somehow missed that that was going on.

Otherwise (and that was probably my mistake, not the writers’) it was well written, amazingly acted, and dark as hell.

If your taste runs to this sort of dark psychological drama thing, make sure you see it. If it doesn’t, here’s a nice kitty you can look at instead:

 


Macbeth (1961)

November 15, 2019

Internet Movie Database

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…


The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

May 10, 2019

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Six short Westerns, all set in different places with different characters.

Ah, the Coen brothers. We do love them, chez Otter. Even when they fall on their faces (yes, we hated The Big Lebowski, even though one of our cats is The Dude) they are interesting, inventive and make movies worth watching, at least once. And at their best, they’re incandescent.

I wouldn’t put this in that last category, but it was certainly good. They had us from the get-go, with the first story being about a singing cowboy (Tim Blake-Nelson) who is definitely NOT one of the good guys. Other stories include a spooky stagecoach ride, an Indian raid on a wagon train, a prospector who hits the big time, a bank robbery gone wrong, and a traveling showman.

All of them were interesting, all had good people acting in them, all were enjoyable.

And (the thing that sticks in the mind of everyone I’ve talked to who saw this) each seperate section is let into by the narrator opening an old-looking book of western stories, and showing an illustration and part of the text of the story that the movie audience is about to see.

And after it was over, Mr. Otter and I spent a couple of days talking about the stories, what we liked and didn’t like, and if they should have been in that order. Very satisfying.

This is stylish, well writing and certainly worth seeing if you can get your hands on it.


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.


Money Train

June 7, 2018

money

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Woody and Wesley are transit cops who have a boss (Robert Blake) who is a bastard and they get back at him by hijacking the subway car that carries all the money for the transit system.

Um, stupid people doing stupid things stupidly.

This is not to say that this movie was not mildly enjoyable; Woody and Wesley are both young and cute (1995) and JLo is ditto. The plot was okay, just unbelieveable enough to make me roll my eyes, which (being in the middle of apheresis at the Red Cross) was about all I could move.

Mildly amusing, a good way to pass the time, no great shakes.