Call of the Wild – good even with CGI dog

Last week, I watched “The Call of the Wild” starring Harrison Ford and a computer generated dog. It should also be noted the other animals were likely CGI as well.

Even with that, the movie is entertaining. Ford’s character has his own demons that he is trying to drink away and avoid in the Yukon. He gradually reveals why he is there as he befriends this lovably awkward dog.

Per the book, Buck the dog is trying to find himself as well. The dog is taken from his home as sled dogs are a commodity with the Yukon gold rush. Yet, he has to be trained to be a sled dog. He is bought by a mail delivery couple that journeys across the Yukon to deliver bags of mail to outlying communities. The couple, played by Omar Sy and Cara Gee, offer the role of “sled parents” and mentors to Buck.

Dan Stevens plays a needed antagonist as a gold thirsty opportunist. He does not let his lack of humanity or lack of knowledge of sledding get in the way of his zeal. Key cameos are offered by Bradley Whitford and Michael Horse.

The movie is rated as OK, but that may be due to the CGI dog. Ford does a great job of playing the imperfect friend to Buck. They need each other on their journey together.

I liked the movie. Is it great, no, but it is entertaining. If you have seen it, let me know what you think.

Five feet apart – movie on teen angst

Even at the ripe old age of 61, I still will pay attention to well-crafted movies about teen angst. While channel surfing, I came across a 2019 film called “Five feet apart,” written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis and directed by newcomer Justin Baldoni.

The movie is inspired by a real couple dealing with cystic fibrosis named Dalton and Katie Prager. The movie stars Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Spears who meet in a wing of a hospital dedicafed to serving patients with this life shortening disease.

Because of the deteriorated lung capacity and susceptibility to infection, the patients must stay six apart. Through the eventual relationship, they decide they can shorten the distance to five feet.

The movie received mixed reviews, but I found it worth the watch. I actually watched it three times as I seemed to pick it up 2/3, then 1/3 and finally from the beginning, so it put puzzle pieces together for me.

It also proved educational about cystic fibrosis and what patients must go through, both physically and mentally. Yet, at its heart it is a story of a slow courtship.

I don’t think I am alone in liking movies like this. I recall enjoying “The fault in our stars” a couple of years ago. But, we can trace teen angst movies back to the play “Romeo and Juliet.” Of course, the play and movie “Westside Story” is based off the Shakepeare play.

So, give it a watch. If you have seen it or are a still a sucker for such moviea, let me know what you think.

The Wizard of Oz – scary movie?

CBS Morning News reported an interest in identifying the scariest movie people have seen. Seconds before host Anthony Mason confirmed my wife’s choice, she said “The Wizard of Oz.” Mason echoed her choice as his scariest.

First, what is your scariest movie and why? Second, did “The Wizard of Oz” scare you as a kid as it did my wife and Mason?

Thinking of Oz from a kids perspective, the witch is pretty scary by herself. But, I was scared by the mean talking trees. Yet, we should not forget the flying monkeys or the Oz icon.

As for other scary movies, my scariest is “The Omen,” with Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. I saw “The Exorcist” later, so I was more prepared for it. But, when I think of “The Exorcist,” I recall a local movie critic saying it scared him so much, he drove his car to his front steps and made sure his house key was right-side up before he left the car.

The first “Halloween,” with Jamie Lee Curtis and the fabulous Donald Pleasance is also top-of-mind scary. This was Curtis’ first starring role and Pleasance plays an interesting troubled man, whether he is evil or trying to prevent evil as in this movie.

Let me know your scariest. But, beware of falling houses, talking trees, flying monkeys and most of all, men behind the curtain.

A few Kirk Douglas favorites

An American icon died this week at the ripe old age of 103, actor Kirk Douglas. He was an imperfect man in an image making business. Yes, he had affairs, but he also gave a job to a blacklisted director who was caught up in the Senator Joe McCarthy communist witch hunt. And, his roles were not always the heroic ones. He played many gray characters and some who were the antagonist.

Here are four movies that are worth the effort, which provide a glimpse of Douglas. He made countless movies, some great, some good and some OK. But, he was a highly prolific actor.

The Vikings – Released in 1958, this movie has an excellent starring cast, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, and Ernest Borgnine. Douglas plays the antagonist to Curtis’ hero. It was my first exposure to Leigh, who I would bet many a boy had a crush on. The movie was directed by Richard Fletcher and written by Dale Wasserman and Calder Willingham.

Spartacus – Released in 1960, this movie stars Douglas as the hero Spartacus, whose men are so devoted to him, are willing to take his place at his crucifixion. “I’m Spartacus,” is the often imitated line. It stars Laurience Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton and Peter Ustinov. It was directed by Stanley Kubrick and written by Dalton Trumbo .

Last Train from Gun Hill – Released in 1959, this is a personal favorite because of the plot and cast. It stars Douglas as a Sheriff whose Native American wife is raped and killed as she tries to escape. Anthony Quinn plays an old friend whose son Earl Holloman is involved. And, any movie with the wistfully beautiful Carolyn Jones will be good. The movie was directed by John Sturges and written by James Poe and Les Crutchfield.

The Man from Snowy River – Released in 1982, this Australian movie stars Douglas in two roles (brothers) – the antagonist father and the supportive old man. It stars Tom Burlinson, as the protagonist, Sigrid Thornton as the his love interest and Jack Thompson who is excellent in any movie he does. The movie has a terrific score and was directed by George Miller and written by Banjo Peterson and Cal Cullerson.

These are only a few of his great roles. He played Ulysses, he played Vincent van Gogh, he played a boxer, and he played cowboys, war heroes and detectives. His son Michael had an excellent career as an actor and director. He did have a great line about his wife. He said if she ever left him, he was going with her. Douglas was an icon. And, he was a great actor.

Movies worth a look

As a means of distraction or illumination, movies provide a necessary vehicle. Looking past the blockbuster action hero movies, here are few to consider for theater-going or downloading.

In no partiicular order:

“Knives Out” is in theaters now and is an entertaining who-done-it? Daniel Craig leads a very recognizable cast.

“Dark Waters” is more illuminating than distracting as Mark Ruffalo stars in a true-life chemical cover-up that went on for years hurting consumers, locals and employees.

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is the story of Mister Rogers’s impacting the lives of many children, but also helping the life of an interviewer, the basis for the movie. Tom Hanks ably plays Mister Rogers.

“Midway” is a well-rounded view of the crucial battle of Midway a key refueling island in the Pacific during WWII. Patrick Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Ed Skrein star in an ensemble cast as the movie focus on both American and Japanese perspectives.

“Ford vs. Ferrari” is an excellent drama around Ford’s efforts to compete in Le Mans racing against recurring champion Ferrari. Christian Bale and Matt Damon star as the racer and racing car designer.

“Judy” is an excellent piece of acting by Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland, late in her career. It focuses on a brief time where Garland plays a London venue to enable her to keep her children.

“Once upon a time in Hollywood” stars Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in a remake of a Hollywood tragedy. It is a Quentin Tarentino movie which is akin to the rewriting of history in “Inglorious Bastards.”

“Tolkien” did not do well at the box office, but is quite good. It focuses on Tolkien’s boyhood and early adult life which led him to his creative fantasy writing of “The Hobbit.” It stars Nicholas Hoult as Tolkien and Lily Collins as his muse and love interest.

Let me know what you think of these movies, avoiding spoilers where possible. Also, what other movies would you recommend?

Renee Zellweger is superb in “Judy”

My wife and I saw the marvelous movie about the a brief period in the career of Judy Garland simply called “Judy.” Renee Zellweger plays the part so well, you believe she is Judy. I encourage you to go see it, but do take some tissue.

The movie does a nice job of flipping back to past moments in Garland’s life to provide some context. It adds a great deal to the film and makes you pull for the adult Judy even more, in spite of her challenges.

The movie is directed by Rupert Goold and is based on the broadway play called “End of the Rainbow,” by Peter Quilter. Quilter and Tom Edge wrote the movie screenplay. Darci Shaw plays the young Judy, while key parts are played by Jessie Buckley who caretakes Judy while in London, Finn Wittrock who plays a young beau, Michael Gambon who plays the producer of the London show, Rufus Sewell who plays Sidney Luft (the father of two of her children), and Royce Pierreson who plays the pianist/ conductor. Her two girls are played by Gemma-Leah Devereaux (Liza Minelli) and Bella Ramsey (Lorna Luft). A key role is played by Andy Nyman as a Judy fan in London.

But, this is Zellweger’s movie to shine as Judy. We knew she could sing from “Chicago,” but she adds flavor to Judy’s older voice lessened some by smoking, drinking and other issues. The movie covers a five week period when she ventures to London for a series of performances at a large club venue. I will leave off the rationale and mission of the gig, as that is an important part of the movie.

Go see it and tell me what you think. For spoiler alerts, I will ask future readers to not read the comments.

“In her shoes” is punctuated by an ee cummings poem

My wife and I caught a movie from 2005 on HBO this week that was moving. The movie is called “In her shoes,” and stars Cameron Diaz and Toni Collete as sisters, with Ken Howard and Shirley MacLaine as their father and grandmother. Mark Feuerstein plays a great role as Collette’s fiancĂ©. The movie is directed by Curtis Hanson and the screenplay was written by Jennifer Weiner and Susannah Grant

The movie is accentuated by a poem that was read by Diaz’ character at her sister’s wedding just before the vows. We learn during the movie, Diaz is dyslexic, so reading does not come easily. She is coached by a retired, blind professor ably played by actor Norman Lloyd, who you might remember as the regimented headmaster in “Dead’s Poet Society.” The poem is by ee cummings and is apropos. Here it is in all of its cummings’ intentional lack of punctuation glory:

I carry your heart

I carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
not fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

e. e. cummings

The poem is breathtakingly poignant. I have included one spoiler above with the wedding reference, but will leave it at that. MacLaine’s role is vital in the movie and she is at her best. If you have a chance, give it a look. You may need a tissue.