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.


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.

 

 


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

February 4, 2020

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

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 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.


The Enemy Below

February 4, 2020

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

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!

 


Little Women

February 4, 2020

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

 

From the book of the same name by Louisa May Alcott.

The lives of four girls growing up during the Civil War.

I wasn’t a girly girl at all…I didn’t read Judy Blume or Nancy Drew or ANY book called Little Women. I did, however, read Little Men and Jo’s Boys and loved them, as well as a lot of other Alcott books. I didn’t actually read this book til I was in college. And I LOVED it, and read it several times.

I may have seen one of the earlier movie adaptations of this story, but (maybe happily) don’t remember either of them. A friend has told me that the Hepburn version BAD, Allyson GOOD. Maybe sometime I’ll watch them and let you know.

Mr. Otter and I went to see this, he never having read the book and me being very familiar with it, and we both loved it.

Firstly, it’s beautiful. The cinematography is lovely, and evocative, and a joy to the eye. Color, movement, flow, all wonderful.

The actors are all excellent, and it was nice to see Laura Dern playing Marmee with a bit of spunk. Mr. Otter’s Golden Love Object, Meryl Streep, plays Aunt March. And the rest of the cast was very well chosen, including Saoirse Ronan as Jo.

The manners are a little too modern; everyone is too open, too easy with each other, too informal. There is a scene where Jo (living on her own and trying to get published) is dancing in a pub or bar with a group of men. Nothing salacious, and today we’d think nothing of if, but it WAS NOT DONE then. Just things like that were noticeable…but make it a little more relatable to modern audiences.

Overall, this was a fine movie, and we both enjoyed it immensely.

 

 


A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

December 6, 2019

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

A journalist is assigned to do a story about Fred Rogers and ends up becoming his friend.

This was more interesting than I expected. Mr. Otter and I really only went to see this movie because we both think Tom Hanks is the awesome with awesome sauce on top and a side of awesome. I thought, a movie about Mr. Rogers? Isn’t that going to be a little dull? But no, it wasn’t.

I was a little too old to watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as a kid, but I’ve certainly seen his show since growing up, and I have to say, Tom Hanks really nailed his voice, movements and slow, friendly cadence. And seeing the contrast between this quiet, gentle person and the brash, conflicted, skeptical reporter really made for a good movie.

A reporter named Tom Junod (renamed Lloyd Vogel in the movie) is burned out from being a war correspondent, has burned bridges with every magazine editor in town, is a bad boy who’s hard to work with and who has big anger issues…and his editor, as his last chance, assigns him to do a short article on Mr. Rogers…which turns into a long article and a lifelong friendship, because that’s just how Mr. Rogers worked.

This movie is well made, charming and heartwarming without being stupid, soppy or sentimental. If you need a bit of ‘up’, it’s a great one to see.


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.


Joker

November 15, 2019

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

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: