The Call of the Wild (2020)

The Call of the Wild (2020)

The Call of the WildDirected by: Chris Sanders. Starring: Harrison Ford, Omar Sy, Dan Stevens. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: February 21, 2020.

I haven’t read Jack London’s original novel The Call of the Wild, but considering it is his masterpiece, I doubt Chris Sanders’ 2020 adaptation lives up to it in any way. It’s a dog’s journey as Buck, a St. Bernard-Scotch Collie, starts out with a rich family (Bradley Whitford is the patriarch) where he plods around the house like a bull in a china store and ruins lunch parties. Then he’s tricked into a dog catcher’s truck, abused and sold onto a dogsled team in the Yukon in the early 1900’s.

This sled team is run by a man called Perrault (Omar Sy) and his wife Francoise (Cara Gee), who deliver mail throughout the Yukon. This portion of the film is its strong suit, and in five minutes is already a better film about delivery dogs than last year’s Arctic Dogs. The best adventure scenes are in this portion, especially one on a frozen lake and a separate escape from an avalanche. These scenes are both worth watching. I liked Omar Sy as Perrault and there’s good humour here, too. I found myself emotionally connected to the story during these scenes.

It’s all a bit strange that Harrison Ford, as John Thornton, isn’t a major player at this point. Ford doesn’t become an important character until the film’s second half. This is bizarre knowing it’s advertised with Harrison Ford as the star, and it seemed like he would be in the film in its entirety. Technically, Ford is there throughout.

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AHHHHH! (IMDb)

He doubles as the narrator telling Buck’s story – but that doesn’t make sense. He tells Buck’s story even though he is not present for the entirety of it. He tells us things that he can’t know, but the story isn’t good enough to competently tell its story without this narration. I’ll think of it as Buck narrating his own story in the third person and his inner voice is Harrison Ford. It would be awkward during dinner if Buck would talk and Ford’s own voice would come out, though this is the only explanation that makes sense.

I must mention the CGI for the dogs. There are no animals harmed in the making of this film because there are no animals on set. I don’t think the VFX animators have ever seen a dog in real life – because the way the dogs look, move and behave, they aren’t dogs. They’re strange creatures in dog costumes.

The CGI is so distracting and I don’t see why the normal dogs couldn’t just be regular dogs. Buck at least has a reason because he does incredible and inspiring things that no normal dog can do. When he isn’t doing those things, why couldn’t he be played by a normal dog? Some of his actions border on amazing, but others are cartoonish – especially a hilarious moment where Buck bites a Siberian Husky by the neck, flips him in the air and literally body slams him into the snow. The WWE has never looked so fun.

The emotional aspects would be better if we knew we were caring about a dog that’s actually alive. He’s just so expressive and so weird looking, and it’s distracting when it looks like he’s always about to talk in his inner Harrison Ford voice and ask for a Scooby Snack.

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Harrison Ford and a CGI “dog” in The Call of the Wild. (IMDb)

Besides Perrault, the humans aren’t much better. Harrison Ford as Thornton isn’t that interesting here. He’s not bad at all, as he’s quite passable phoning it in. He shows up in the film as someone who just spends his days drinking to forget about trauma from his past. The Gold Rush aspect of the film brings about a message of living within your means, and Thornton shows that well.

He’s a dog person who protects Buck from abuse, and that comes in the form of the lazily-written antagonist Hal (Dan Stevens), an upper-class schmuck searching for more wealth in the Gold Rush, convinced he’ll be able to find gold with the help of Buck and the other dogs.

The Call of the Wild doesn’t need antagonists – the man vs. nature aspect works well enough – but Hal completely kills the decent pacing as a hammy, one-note villain who just wants his gold. The film makes me hate Dan Stevens for 40 minutes and that sucks. Karen Gillan is criminally wasted as his wife, Mercedes, only there to sit in the sled and protest when Hal pulls a gun on the poor CGI creatures. She literally has less than two pages of dialogue. I’m a big fan of Dan Stevens, but he’s just here to twirl his moustache (which he never twirls) and chew the scenery.

Speaking of the actual scenery, Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is great. There’s some truly solid adventure here, and once Buck starts hearing the call, it’s sort-of intriguing near the end. The film is just not consistently spectacular enough to see in theatres. This is also a film about following your inner nature. My inner nature is telling me if The Call of the Wild calls me, I’ll just mute it.

Score: 50/100

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Saving Mr. BanksReleased: December 20, 2013. Directed by: John Lee Hancock. Starring: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Annie Rose Buckley. Runtime: 125 min.

Many might fear that a biography film made by Disney might feel too Disney, like the way they handle their sports films – a bit cheesy but still entertaining. (It’s great that director John Lee Hancock didn’t make this as cheesy as he did with “The Rookie.”) With “Saving Mr. Banks,” it never feels like that. This follows the behind  the scenes story of how P.L. Travers’ (portrayed by Emma Thompson) novel “Mary Poppins” was adapted into a film by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). She reflects on her difficult childhood while speaking her mind about everything she doesn’t like, much to the writers’, and especially Walt Disney’s dismay.

“Saving Mr. Banks” is an entertaining bio pic featuring some fantastic performances. It also gives Travers’ “Mary Poppins” a lot of layers that I hadn’t previously known, and it makes me want to rewatch it, because I haven’t seen it for a long time. Emma Thompson portrays Travers, an uptight but funny character. She is a realistic thinker who believes children should be prepared for the hardships of life; it makes the viewer question what might have traumatized her. It gets shown throughout in flashback form, but more on that in a bit.

She’s a delicate character who should lighten up a bit, but is very well portrayed by Thompson. I find it interesting how it’s hard for Travers to give up rights to Mary Poppins, because she wants the characters in the film to be portrayed well. It’s more difficult to share something when you care so deeply for it. One more thing on Thompson’s performance: I enjoy that she gets to play the authour of “Mary Poppins”, while she had previously portrayed Nanny McPhee in “Nanny McPhee” and its sequel “Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang,” and McPhee is also a magical nanny – so it’s a similar character to Poppins. She also wrote the screenplays for those two films, so that’s kinda cool. (The first “Nanny McPhee” is the only one worth seeing.)

Travers reflects upon her childhood throughout the film. Little Pamela (a.k.a. Ginty) is portrayed by Annie Rose Buckley, who’s really good. It seems child actresses are much more consistently better than child actors, if you ask me. She is moved to a new town in Australia with her family where her father Travers Goff (Colin Farrell) has a great imagination and he teaches Ginty to dream big, but he can be a bit too irresponsible with everything else – especially in the workplace; but he’s a good father figure because he’d do anything for his daughter. Farrell’s performance is memorable, especially when occurences happen that he doesn’t have much control over. Ruth Wilson portrays the mother, but she doesn’t have much to do throughout. Pam’s little sister is cute, but there isn’t much of a relationship expressed between the two of them.

Flashbacks in films don’t bother me, but in this film – it makes the plot a complicated in scenes for a bio pic, because of all of its symbolism and all of the parallels that are drawn. This is also more profound than one’s average bio pic, so that makes up for it. It’s thought-provoking because there are themes of forgiveness and the fact that when someone suffers, there are other people in the world going through a similar type of suffering. It teaches to not live in the past, as well. But however Travers has grown up, it’s made her very stubborn. Walt Disney does his best to put up with that. Tom Hanks is quite charming as Disney, a character who doesn’t want to fall back on his promise to his daughters to bring Poppins to the big screen.

He’ll probably still receive the Oscar nomination for his work in “Captain Phillips,” however, because that character showed a bit more emotional range. B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman (who play the Sherman brothers who work on the music and lyrics), and Bradley Whitford (as co-scripter Don DeGradi) play supporting roles in the writing department. Their singing and dancing is entertaining. There’s one scene where they sing a song, while Colin Farrell rhythmically says a speech, and it skips between the two time periods. It’s very cool. Paul Giamatti also gets a role as Travers’ driver, and he gets some layers a bit later on in the film, in heartwarming ways. Suffice to say, it’s quite the cast and an enjoyable film. It’s a good thing I liked this, too, because I’d like the cool poster on my wall.

Score83/100

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

The Cabin in the Woods

Release Date: April 13, 2012

Director: Drew Goddard

Stars: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison

Runtime: 95 min

Tagline: You think you know the story.

As I’m not very experienced at reviewing films just yet, I thought the best way for not spoiling that much of the film is by keeping it kind of short and sweet.

A group of young adults go for a getaway vacation to a, you guessed it, cabin in the woods; where things start out alright, but they soon turn into a wicked nightmare.

It’s quite admirable that this has some reminiscent themes of two extremely different films: Scream and The Truman Show.

It does have some delightful twists and turns and was a real pleasant and fresh surprise, and is the greatest horror gem of 2012 I’ve seen thus far. It’s one of those films where I walked out of the theatre and wanted to watch it again, and told all of my friends to see it, and searched the DVD release date (which by the way is September 18). If I had to pick a flaw I guess I’d saw the pacing was a bit off. All of the cast fitted their roles perfectly, so the casting director shall get a gold star from me. This film was filmed in 2009 and was put on the shelf because of budgetary issues and the studio wanted to convert it to 3D, but I’m so glad they didn’t do that because I would have hated to see this great horror flick to have potentially bad 3D effects.

The film stars Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford (that schmuck from Billy Madison) and a sweet cameo from a horror icon (seriously, don’t even do research, you’ll want to be surprised when you watch it).

You don’t want to miss this horror treat from the minds of Drew Goddard (Cloverfield) and Joss Whedon (The Avengers), and is Goddard’s directorial debut. It’s a must-see, has big scares can be really funny at times, and is the most original horror film I have seen since Scream.

90/100