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.


1917

March 10, 2020

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

During one day in April 1917, two soldiers are sent to cross no-mans-land at the front and deliver a message.

Ottersis and I were all over this- the previews were amazing, the movie had great word-of-mouth, and we both love war stories. Mr. Otter was full of reasons why this movie couldn’t have happened the way it did, sight unseen, so we left him at home and had a good time.

April 1917, a message must be sent across no-mans-land to stop an attack that will kill hundreds of men, including the brother of one of the guys carrying the message. The phone lines have been cut and the radio won’t work for (reasons), so they have to carry it themselves. Through trenches, bodies, no-mans-land, the german lines, towns under attack, you name it.

The thing is, the movie is close to real-time; the whole thing takes place in less than 24 hours of screen time. And the camera either follows, looks at, or uses the main character’s own pov the whole time. That alone makes it pretty amazing, especially the first third of the movie which is right up close to them and what they’re seeing and doing; after that it’s more like a regular movie, but that first third is really involving.

The story is excellent- the things that happen to them, the things they see, their talk and their friendship, the events of the war: all of these are really well done. The cinematography is excellent, it’s a beautiful picture, if one can say such a thing when so much of what is on screen is the awfulness of WWI.

If you like war movies or edge-of-your-seat suspense, this is a great choice.


Birds of Prey

March 10, 2020

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

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.


Dolittle

March 3, 2020

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

Dr. Doolittle sets out (with his apprentice and a bunch of animals) to find a cure for the Queen’s illness.

I have so many things to say about this movie, very little of it positive…so hold onto your hats, kids ! Oh, and there are SPOILERS if anyone cares (and you shouldn’t, really. Trust the Otter.)

Firstly, let me say that I loved these books; I had a collection of four or five of them in paperback that I read over and over and over. Before seeing this movie I reread the first one, The Story of Dr. Dolittle. And enjoyed it, although being a British book of its time, it is not politically correct in any way. So I was ready to see a more modern and less Rex Harrison-y version, and to like it very much. I mean, ROBERT DOWNEY JR? Oh yes.

And I was in the theater with Ottersis. And the movie started…and the opening credits were pretty awesome. They were set against a series of drawings showing the story of how Dolittle had a medical practice, learned to talk to animals, met a beautiful woman explorer, fell in love, she had to go on one more voyage, her ship was wrecked, and she sent Polly the parrot (whose REAL name was Polynesia, dammit!) back to Dolittle with her wedding ring…and he became a recluse.

THEN the movie started with him hiding in his house like Willy Wonka in the shut-down chocolate factory.

And you know what they say about sequels, that they’re never as good as the first movie? It was true in this case too…because the story that was told in the opening credits was AWESOME and would have made a WONDERFUL movie. This, although technically a stand-alone, was really a sequel to that story, and like most sequels…it SUCKED. (Here’s Otter’s list of Sequels that Don’t Suck)

Firstly, it was predictable. Grieving curmudgeon is forced to come back to life by a cute child and His Duty.

Secondly, the animals were way more fun than any of the actors.

Thirdly, Downey was just not at the top of his game. He was so completely phoning it in that I thought maybe he owed a favor to whoever made this damn thing and had been forced to appear in it. I mean, Iron Man. The Avengers. And as soon as his Avengers contract is over, he does…THIS? But no. He was the executive producer. It was his baby.

He must bear the blame. Especially for NOT engaging his audience, a mortal sin in a kids’ movie. Gene Wilder was a curmudgeon but (as soon as the ‘walking slowly out of the factory and scaring everyone’ part was over, he was obviously fun and interesting and engaged with the kids. Downey…was not. Granted, it can’t have been easy doing that much green screen time, since most of the actors in this movie (the animals) were cgi…but he’s done this before and it’s worked. It truly looked and felt like he just didn’t want to be there at all. And after a bit, neither did I. He was so low-key and nonreactive that it was almost painful to watch him…he was certainly not interested in engaging his audience, any more than he was interested in the movie he was STARRING IN…!

Fourthly, the plot was trite and didn’t make sense. The queen is sick, we have to assume Queen Victoria, although she is never mentioned by name. She is played by a 30 year old woman and looks younger than that, but we’ll give it 30. That would mean this movie is set in 1869 or thereabouts, but nothing in the politics or period detail reflect this. But wait, you say, this is a kid’s movie, you are overthinking it! Nope. If a movie has a definite time and place, it has to WORK. This didn’t. And of course there are plots, and one of her advisors is poisoning her with a nebulous poison that leaves her at the brink of death for an unspecified time, which Dolittle goes off on adventures and gets the fruit to make her better and gets back JUST in time to unmask the bad guy and fix ol’ Queenie right up. Shades of The Magician’s Nephew, seriously.

The CGI animals were darn cute, although a little too cute and scene-stealy. The rest of the cast was fine. But the plot…there were other plot problems, which brings me to

Fifthly. More than once, we are told about something amazing and exciting, either because the movie was getting too long or they ran out of CGI budget. There was a point, I think when they reached the island of the guy who was supposed to help them but threw them into prison instead, and the movie literally cut from the ship to them climbing up the ramparts of the castle while the parrot (Emma Thompson) who was also the narrator told us that amazing adventures had happened to get them there. Huh? Then why didn’t you show them to us instead of referring to them so offhandedly? This is just plain bad writing, for whatever reason, and should not have happened.

So yes, I disliked this movie intensely. It was badly written, Downey was awful, and the plot, even for a kid’s movie, was trite and annoying. Why, oh why, did they not make the movie from the beginning credits? I guess we’ll never know…

 


2001: A Space Odyssey

February 18, 2020

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

There is a book with this title by Arthur C. Clarke; he worked on it with Stanley Kubrick while the movie was being filmed, and the book was released after the movie came out with out.

Like I can describe this movie in one sentence. Okay, here goes: Human evolution as enhanced by wierd monoliths, from early man to space travel, and what happens to the first astronauts to go to Jupiter. Hm. Not perfect, but it’ll do.

I saw this movie when it was new, when I was a very young otter indeed, at the Hollywood Cinerama Dome, which has an 86 FOOT WIDE SCREEN. It was quite an experience, and I’ve never forgotten the wonder and coolness of that movie, and have seen it many times.

And yet, here it is 2020, and I had not reviewed it…which means that I have not seen it since January 1, 2002, which is when I started reviewing every movie I watch. Wow. That amazed me.

CoyoteRambles was visiting us, and as is our wont, after a good dinner we settled down with some delicious libations to watch a movie or two. This came up in the conversation, and since he had taught it in a class for foreign students, we decided to watch it; one of the best things about watching movies with CoyoteRambles is that he knows so much about movies.

And as I remembered, it was wonderful.

But…there are SPOILERS ahead.

If you are one of the few in the world who haven’t seen it yet, you may want to come back to this review after watching it. Go ahead, I’ve got some free time.

You back? Okay!

So yes, the cinematography is amazing. And beautiful in many ways. We found out from CR that the only reason the makeup artist DIDN’T win an Oscar for the first section, the apelike hominids, was because everyone thought they were really apes instead of people with amazing makeup…wow.

It’s fun, fifty years later, to see the concept of future tech.

On the one hand, video phone calls and recorded video messages. On the other hand, no handheld devices.

On the one hand, computers. On the other hand, mostly keypads or voice commands.

On the one hand, a regular shuttle flight to the space station, stewardess and all. On the other hand, palatial amounts of room and meal/drinks service…not really the travel experience of today for most people, plus for a trip like that economizing on space would be important.

Hindsight is so easy. But the internal logic of how all of it worked together was very consistent, and a joy to watch, either then or now…although seeing it as a 10 year old, the plot didn’t completely make sense to me until I read the book…but I was that kind of kid, ALWAYS read the book.

CoyoteRambles said he had had an epiphany about the movie, even after watching it umpteen times: at the end Kier Dullea finds a hidden recorded message about the government finding a monolith on the moon, realizing that it was sending a signal to Jupiter, and covering that up…and that ‘knowing’ that, having it in his memory but having to lie about it, was what drove HAL crazy. That was an interesting insight!

This is one of the truly great movies. If you haven’t seen it, do it now.

 

 


Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker

February 4, 2020

Internet Movie Database          Movie Review

Um, you know, the good guys need to defeat the bad guys because it’s the last movie.

I am of an age to have seen the original Star Wars movie (which I will forever refer to as Star Wars, NOT ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’, dammit!) in the theaters, and if you have listened to any of us old people go on and on about it, you know what a life changer that was. As were the two sequels.

Then came the travesties that were the prequels, and the less said about them the better. (Episode I came out before I started writing reviews and I’m sure not going back and seeing it again, but here are Episode II and Episode III for your reading pleasure.)

Then Disney bought the franchise, and of course they had to make billions more dollars and put their stamp on it…and the first of their movies, that would be Episode VII, was pretty good. The second, Episode VIII, was pretty good.

Aaaand…here’s the one where they are supposed to wrap all of it up in a pretty bow, and finish it off satisfyingly. And…not so good.

As my daughter, Maid of Awesome, said, it’s okay for a standalone but really doesn’t work as part of the series.

Truthfully, I’m not a huge fan. I can’t tell you who all the characters and aliens and background plot points are. But even I had trouble with some things:

The ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ are really hard to tell apart. I don’t mean the individual people- obviously, if they’re wearing black, or look scary, or have British accents, they’re BAD. Otherwise they’re GOOD. The Republic and the Resistance are the good guys (and if they’re a Republic, why do they need to also be the Resistance?). The First Order is bad guys. Okay. But the good guys are presented as scrappy fighters without much of a budget, fighting against the big bad guys…but they always seem to have a nice big army at the end, like this movie, where literally thousands of spacecraft show up to fight the bad guys. Who coordinated that? and how? You can’t just send out one call for help and hope someone shows up…and the bad guys had this amazing fleet of ships on a secret planet, each one with a weapon that could vaporize an entire planet. Why were they sitting there waiting for the good guys to destroy them, instead of being used?

Stuff like that kept bothering me, and to be honest, there were so many characters jockeying for their minute of screen time that I was not even trying to keep track, but just letting it flow in front of my eyes. I was sorry that Rose got shorted in this one, she was a good character. Poe just had the ‘maverick’ label stuck on him, so his major character trait was to go off half-cocked and do whatever he wanted in any given situation…not a good thing in a secret army. I felt like the writers were just coming up with characters, and audience reaction would determine who got a good role in the next movie. Again, not good.

This was okay but not great, and I can’t envision myself ever wanting to see it again. At least (I hope) the series is over; the one-offs seem to have stopped with the abysmal failure of Solo. But with Disney, nothing ever ends…


The Abyss

February 4, 2020

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

A group of oil rig workers and scientists use their submersible to try and rescue a nuclear submarine that has been lost in a deep sea trench.

It was New Year’s Day, and the Videofest was in progress. This was our third movie, so we were settled in, ready for some action. The theme was Under Water, and I had picked this not only because I had heard of it (and there weren’t a WHOLE lot of films that fit the criteria  that weren’t submarine movies) but also because I was ready for some scary shark attack scenes.

Boy, was I ever wrong! Not at all about shark attacks. Not scary. Just really fun and good.

This is a James Cameron movie, which should have clued me in at the start- big budget aliens and stuff like that, not jump scares.

Everyone but Mr. Otter really liked this; Ottersis and Music Mike had seen it before, but Kelly and I had not. Mr. Otter hadn’t either but gave up and walked out on it halfway through, saying it was boring.

He was wrong. This movie has a good plot and characters (Ed Harris playing the lead quite ably), great special effects, and moves right along. It starts out as ‘outrageous but extremely competent guys doing a dangerous job’ and suddenly segues into ‘weird stuff is happening and we have to figure it out and deal with it.’. The transition works well, and the ending is excellent.

If you (like me) haven’t seen it yet, rent or stream it, it’s worth the effort of finding it.


Spider-Man: Far From Home

December 6, 2019

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

This review has, by necessity, spoilers for Avengers: Endgame…so if you haven’t seen that, go watch it now and come on back to find out what the Otter has to say about Spidey’s latest adventure!

 

No worries, I’ll wait…

 

and I’m waiting…

 

All done? Wasn’t that great? Now, let’s get back to Spidey.

 

Peter Parker goes on a class trip to Europe, hoping to just be a student, but of course Spider-man is needed.

This movie takes place after Avengers: Endgame, and if you recall, the people who disappeared at the end of Infinity War reappeared five years later. Peter Parker was one of them. I really loved that they made that part of this movie, and the fact that all these people (especially young people) are now dealing with having been moved ahead five years while everyone who didn’t disappear has gone on with their lives, and also gotten older…so high school students come back to a school where all their friends have graduated and moved on, and they are still the age they were. Really well done.

There is a world-wide threat, the Avengers are no more (literally, for many of them) and the world expects Spidey to take the lead role, not realizing that he’s a kid (or really caring). Peter is just trying to get on with his life, get a date with Mary Jane, and not be a superhero for a while…but of course is dragged into the mess. There are superbeings targeting different places on Earth, and a guy named Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) who shows up to help stop the baddies, and Nick Fury is trying to recruit Spidey, and of course things go wrong on the class trip.

This was a really good and satisfying coda to the Avengers saga, well worth watching. Good, fast-paced and believeable writing, characters that you care about, and some interesting plot twists made this one of the better Spider-man movies. Well worth seeing, says the Otter.


The House with a Clock in its Walls

November 15, 2019

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

From the book with the same name by John Bellairs

A recently orphaned boy goes to live with his uncle and finds out that said uncle is a sorcerer…and the house he lives in hides a secret that can destroy the universe.

So firstly: the book. I loved this book when it came out, and during my years as a children’s librarian would hand it to any kid who was looking for a scary story that was more engaging than Goosebumps. It’s creepy, atmospheric, and (bonus) illustrated by Edward Gorey, which only adds to the creepy factor. After seeing this movie, I reread the book…and did enjoy it, remembering the major plot twists as I read, and vividly remembering the illustrations. But (as many older things are to our modern sensibilities) it had less ‘scary roller coaster’ feel to it than I remembered; although the payoff at the end is still awesome, much of the book is descriptive rather than action. Which I enjoyed, but modern readers (aka kids) might not.

And then there’s the movie. Jack Black is awesome as Lewis’ uncle Jonathan, and Cate Blanchett is the next-door neighbor and Jonathan’s best friend. It was nice to see that the movie kept their relationship friendly without throwing love overtones in it; not every pair of people hanging out together has to be romantic. The story was good and of course the special effects were excellent.

But (and you knew this was coming, right?) But.

And here’s where the SPOILERS come in…

Kyle MacLachlan (or as he’s known Chez Otter, Peggy Waffles) is the evil Isaac Izard, who, with his wife, want to unmake the world even after they’re dead. Which is their whole motivation in the book, and a perfectly good one. But no. Not in the movie. In the movie, Izard wants to start time over again so that his PTSD will go away. Seriously. Not because humanity sucks, not because he lost someone and wants to get him/her back, not because he’s just evil and rolls that way. He’s a whinyboy trying to make all the hurty feelings go away.

As a motive, it really didn’t work for me. PTSD is so prevalant for so many awful reasons that this guy just made me roll my eyes and want to smack him upside the head for a whiner.

And I really get tired of bad guys needing hifalutin reasons for being bad…almost every movie now does this, and I’m pretty tired of it. I’d love to see one about a bad guy who’s just bad because he’s, well, BAD.

LIke, well, Joker…


Michael Collins

June 22, 2019

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

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…