Call of the Wild

Harrison Ford in The Call of the Wild (2020)

I’m always a bit hesitant when I go and to see a movie about a dog as they can often be too silly or too tragic. Based on the trailers, I thought it might have a similar story to Balto, which seemed appealing to me. While most of the film is set in a cold climate, it’s not a film about diverting disaster. This film is about the development of the dog Buck. While it had a slow start, it’s overall an enjoyable film that I think most children would enjoy barring a few intense scenes.  

The film starts off somewhere in the American South at an unspecified date. We see Buck roaming the town and then he returns home to his master’s home. Buck ruins a feast they were preparing and so Judge Miller (Bradley Whitford) has Buck sleep outside. A stranger arrives in the middle of the night and lures Buck with food. Buck climbs into the back of their wagon and is trapped. Buck is transported via train and boat, while taught to fear his captors. Buck is brought to be sold in the Yukon area of Canada.  

As Buck is lead around the town, he bumps into a John Thornton (Harrison Ford). Buck sees John dropped his harmonica and breaks free long enough to return it to him. Buck is soon sold to a new master named Perrault (Omar Sy) who uses a dog sled team to deliver the mail along with his wife Françoise (Cara Gee). Buck doesn’t understand how to pull a sled at first, but he starts to see some sort of inner wolf that leads him to follow his instincts. Buck comes to help the other dogs as he sees the current pack leader leads out of fear. One day Françoise falls into some ice and Buck races to save her. Saving Francoise amongst other changes shows that Buck is ready to be a valuable member of the pack.

I didn’t know this film was based on a novel called Call of the Wild by Jack London. That helps to explain to me why Buck’s life is told like a series of adventures rather than just being a singular conflict. I do find it appealing that it’s told as a self-exploration story from Buck’s perspective and we see how much the character changes from beginning to end. I would recommend this film to people who want to see a story about the adventures of a dog. While it does have some intense scenes, I do think most children would enjoy it. The story has a few silly moments, but it’s mostly a film about the character exploration of Buck. Rated PG. 

Ryan 

Dolittle

Robert Downey Jr., Emma Thompson, Marion Cotillard, Octavia Spencer, John Cena, Selena Gomez, Rami Malek, Kumail Nanjiani, and Tom Holland in Dolittle (2020)

Based on the initial reviews I expected this movie to be boring or reliant on juvenile humor. I didn’t find this to be true, I’d in fact say it is an adventure movie primarily.  I’ve not read any of the novels, so my experience with the series is limited to Eddie Murphy’s movies of Dr. Dolittle. I found the trailers didn’t tell much about the movie other than the Gorilla was scared, which helps elucidate a concept of the film. Dr. Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) isn’t just a medical doctor, he’s a person interested in the world around him and helping those in it. 

 The film starts with an animated backstory narrated by Poly (Emma Thompson) about the early life of Dr. Dolittle. We learn about the untimely death of his wife Lily Dolittle (Kasia Smutniak) and the self-imposed isolation of Dolittle. We then see a boy with his family called Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) hunting against his wishes. He tries to miss a duck only to injure a squirrel. Poly the parakeet sees Tommy distraught by this and leads him to Dr. Dolittle’s wildlife reservation. Tommy gets caught in a trap, meanwhile we see Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) also finds the reservation. 

Dr. Dolittle was going about his daily routine with the animals with a large unkempt beard when he sees Tommy hanging from the net outside. Poly tries to persuade him to help Tommy, but Dr. Dolittle decides to send Chee-Chee, the gorilla, (Rami Malek) to scare Tommy and Rose despite being scared of the humans himself. Rose isn’t scared and walks right past Chee-Chee. Rose tells Dr. Dolittle that the Queen Victoria of England (Jessie Buckley) is unwell and has specifically requested Dr. Dolittle to which he refuses the request. After Tommy brings in the squirrel, Dolittle reluctantly agrees to help it. The animals overhear during the surgery that if the Queen dies, that the reservation that was granted will no longer be Dr. Dolittle’s.  

This film was an enjoyable adventure that was made for the whole family in mind, though it does have some scary scenes for younger audiences. The special effects of the animals are done well enough that you feel they are present in the scenes, but they still have some human characteristics to add to the experience. There are several characters within the movie who have well-developed personalities with relatable flaws. One of the concepts that really made me laugh was Dolittle speaks to the animals in their languages. In Eddie Murphy’s version we’re told that he speaks like the animals, but we never see him talk like the animals. The whole concept is well done, and I hope there will be a sequel. I could imagine each film focusing around a few of the animals introduced in this film to create a deeper connection with the characters. Rated PG. 

Ryan 

Sonic the Hedgehog

Jim Carrey, Frank C. Turner, James Marsden, Tom Butler, Neal McDonough, Adam Pally, Shannon Chan-Kent, Tika Sumpter, Elfina Luk, Ben Schwartz, Lee Majdoub, Debs Howard, and Natasha Rothwell in Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

The first trailer for this film caused heavy backlash because of the initial look of the title character. After the estimated $5 million redesign of the character, people seemed to regain confidence that it would not be laughably bad. What really sold me on this film was Jim Carrey’s mannerisms in the trailer of Dr. Ivo Robotnik. I’m happy to say that Sonic the character looked presentable and Jim Carrey really delivered an eccentric version of Robotnik. The film had a good mix of action and comedy that delivers a strong family film. It’s not a fantastic film, but I think it gives multiple generations a Sonic film they can enjoy.  

The film starts off near the end of the film and Sonic (Ben Schwartz) narrates how his journey started years ago. He explains he was raised by an owl called Longclaw (Donna Jay Fulks) who tried to protect him from those who would want to steal his power from him. Baby Sonic (Benjamin Valic) thinks he’s too fast to be seen, but enemies arrive to get Baby Sonic. Baby Sonic gets handed a bag of magic rings by Longclaw and is told to escape to a planet on the other side of the universe. The rings create portals that he can flee into. If the next planet fails, he’s told to flee to a world full of only mushrooms. 

We see that Sonic has been living alone for years and has created his own hidden home underground on Earth. He’s been living in Green Hills watching the people in the town without letting himself be seen. He feels alone though as he can’t interact with them. His favorite person he calls Donut Lord who is really Tom Wachowski (James Marsden). One-night Sonic is frustrated with being alone as he plays baseball, which causes him to run fast enough that he releases an electrical charge that takes out the power grid. Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey) is called in to investigate this anomaly and Sonic sees that he’s being tracked. Sonic goes to hide out in Tom’s garage where Tom uses a tranquilizer dart on Sonic out of pure surprise.  

This movie feels familiar to other family films that I’ve seen before. It delivers on the premise well though. Jim Carrey helps create a threatening but strange character in Robotnik along with his sidekick Agent Stone (Lee Majdoub). The movie seems to rotate in scenes of character interaction and action scenes, which helps keep it exciting. It’s a fun family film that seems to be set in a world of strange characters. I really enjoy how it just leans into the absurd but maintains an internal logic to prevent things from being confusing. Rated PG. 

Ryan 

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Last year I saw Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and I honestly think it’s a shame that it didn’t win the Oscar for best picture, let alone receive any form of nomination. With that in mind, I had high hopes for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. I’d say this is a good film, but it has a different tone and focus from what I expected. The film itself is about the real events of Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) and how he came to know Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) in a difficult time in Lloyd’s life. There is almost a magical or mythical presence to Mr. Rogers which does come through amidst Lloyd’s troubles.

The film starts like an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Mr. Rogers sits down and shows us a picture board where he reveals a picture of Lloyd Vogel. He talks about how Lloyd got injured because he couldn’t forgive someone in his life. Mr. Rogers talks about how forgiveness can be very hard as it’s hard to know what to do with the anger we feel. We then transition through a toy set (like on the tv show) to Lloyd’s life.

We see Lloyd talking to his wife Andrea Vogel (Susan Kelechi Watson) about going to Lloyd’s sister’s third wedding. Lloyd learns his father Jerry (Chris Cooper) will be there and isn’t happy about it. At the wedding Jerry tried to confront Lloyd about their past and Lloyd ends up hitting him. Lloyd shoves and is then hit back by someone breaking up the fight. Lloyd goes into work the next day and lies about his injury to everyone saying it was from “softball.” Lloyd gets assigned to a piece about Mr. Rogers despite his objections. Lloyd gets to the set at his assigned time, only to learn the show is behind schedule again as Fred Rogers is spending time with a sick child. Lloyd eventually gets a chance to talk to Fred Rogers where Rogers asks Lloyd some questions as well, like what really happened to his nose.

The movie overall is a journey from Lloyd’s own cynicism to the bright disposition Fred Rogers seems to spread around himself. Lloyd does see though that Rogers is a genuine human who tries to do his best. The story is told in a rather creative fashion so that it feels that the entire film is taking part within a special episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I think Tom Hanks does a fantastic job portraying Mr. Rogers. I will say though that last year’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor would at very least be a good companion piece to watch alongside this one as I think it helped better explore the life of Fred Rogers and explains the puppets a bit better. Overall this is an enjoyable film, with some darker topics than I was expecting. Rated PG.

Ryan

Jojo Rabbit

Sam Rockwell, Taika Waititi, Scarlett Johansson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Rebel Wilson, Thomasin McKenzie, and Roman Griffin Davis in Jojo Rabbit (2019)

The topic matter is intended to be unsettling or uncomfortable with this film. It’s a dark comedy where they explore some unsettling historical events, so I’d say it’s not for everyone. I’ve enjoyed Taika Waititi’s films in the past including Hunt for the Wilderpeople and the better known Thor:Ragnarock. I was a bit apprehensive that it would be too comedic, disrespectful, or too sobering which would make it hard to watch. I think it struck the right balance and told us a story about a little boy living in a highly stressful environment, even if he doesn’t see it that way. 

The film starts off with a rather unsettling rendition of the Beatles’ I Want to Hold Your Hand used to introduce the fanaticism that Adolf Hitler elicited by comparing him in a way to the Beatles. We then meet Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) as he’s talking to his imaginary friend Adolf (Taika Waititi) to psyche himself up for Hitler Youth summer camp. He and other 10-year-old boys and girls including his best friend Yorki (Archie Yates) are going to learn the basics of becoming a Nazi. The boys do various training exercises like learning to shoot, throw grenades, fight, use their knives, and in general just prepare to go to war. As some older boys notice Jojo isn’t hurting anyone in a team battle, they decide to pick on him. 

The older boys try to force Jojo to kill a rabbit and when he refuses, they taunt him with the name “Jojo Rabbit” because he’s afraid like a rabbit. His imaginary friend Adolf and Yorki give him a bit of a pep talk and Jojo enthusiastically runs back during grenade training. Jojo takes a grenade from Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell). He throws the grenade and it bounces off a tree back at him. Jojo ends up being injured and he wakes up in a hospital to his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) looking at him. Jojo starts working for Captain Klenzendorf as his scars are deemed “too frightening” for the other children. As Jojo arrives home early one day he calls out for his mother and finds Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding in a secret room. 

This movie really balances its topics and themes well. It’s clear that Jojo is just a boy, but what he’s raised to believe is something terrible. This movie doesn’t make any efforts to excuse his beliefs either, just try to explain them. We see the struggle of the other adults and children in this world who must deal with being in the middle of a war that they seem to be losing. This movie ranges from some silly jokes to some dark moments. I think many would enjoy this film or get something from the messages within. It’s certainly for people who enjoy a bit of history and dark humor. Rated PG-13. 

Ryan 

Little Women

I’ve heard of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, but I’ve not seen any of the other film adaptations or read the book.  Stories of drama and romance aren’t something I actively seek, but I do try to push myself to experience something different on occasion. While initially a bit slow and honestly confusing from telling the story out of linear order, I see why this story has held the test of time. The main four characters are relatable, yet unique. The film is presented as a series of smaller stories of four women as they grow up and try to find both their purpose and happiness in life.

The story is set at an unspecified time and place during the American Civil War somewhere likely in the Northeastern United States. We’re introduced to Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) as she’s trying to sell a short story without admitting she wrote it. The publisher removes a page of the story about seeking a deeper meaning against her objections but agrees to pay her for the more scandalous parts of it. Jo heads home where she explains through narration that she’s been earning money to help support her family in her father’s absence. We are introduced to Amy March (Florence Pugh) who is away in Paris, France with Aunt March (Meryl Streep).

In Paris, Amy bumps into family friend Theodore “Laurie” Laurence (Timothée Chalamet) and they catch up before Amy asks if Laurie would like to pick her up for a dance. The movie then transitions to seven years ago to the March house where Jo, Meg March (Emma Watson), Amy, and Beth March (Eliza Scanlen) are getting ready to go to a party. At the party Jo runs into Laurie for the first time and admits to him that she was told not to dance as she burned her dress a bit. Laurie asks her outside to dance so the burned dress can avoid being seen. After the dance, it’s revealed Meg hurt her ankle dancing and needs to be taken home and Laurie offers his carriage to take them home. They go home to meet the very friendly Marmee March (Laura Dern) and we can see that this is a very happy household as the four girls relax after the dance.

I would say the biggest flaw of the movie is knowing when and where certain events are happening. It’s unclear at times if a character just isn’t home at the time or if they currently don’t live there like Amy’s trip to Paris. I do think telling the story out of order has some benefits as well since we know the results of certain events before seeing what leads up to them, which I feel gives us more opportunities to understand characters in certain context. The biggest strength of the movie really is the characters from their everyday to existential troubles. I think the title is apt in understanding the topic of the movie as while they are young, the main four women still must deal with what it means to be an adult in that time period. I left the theater with a satisfied feeling from this engrossing story. I feel curious about the other books from this series as I did enjoy it. I’m glad my first movie of 2020 was a good one. Rated PG.

Ryan

1917

1917 (2019)

I went into this film not knowing much about it other than what the trailers showed. One very important factor of this film is the use of long take cinematography. This means the camera shot lasts much longer on the focal point than the traditional editing pace used in most films. To compare the two, I think this film makes better use of this method as it creates a very intense experience. The movie is very intense as through the premise, it’s uncertain when or where danger will present itself. While the story may be something familiar to you, the cinematography and acting elevates the film to a cinematic experience.  

The film starts with Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) resting under a tree. Blake is alerted that he has a mission and that he should choose one person to accompany him. He chooses Schofield. They weave their way through the claustrophobic trenches to meet General Erinmore (Colin Firth). He explains to them that the Germans have planned an ambush for the next day at dawn and 1600 Ally soldiers are in peril. Blake’s brother is among those going into the assault.  

Blake and Schofield are equipped and sent on their mission. Schofield wants to stop and talk as he thinks it’d be better to go at night, but Blake rushes through the trenches shoving his way through the crowded masses. Eventually they make it to the furthest point the trenches will take them, and they get ready to run through “No man’s land” (the area between the Allied Powers and Central Powers on the battlefield). They don’t have any initial problems other than trying to maneuver around the death and destruction. They eventually make it to the enemy trench where you can feel their fear wondering if they’re walking into an enemy encampment or if the intelligence was correct. They find the trenches empty with German gear destroyed so it couldn’t be used. Blake and Schofield try to take a shortcut through an underground tunnel only to have a tripwire set off explosives to collapse it.

This movie has a frantic pace to it. Not that everything is rushed, but the two main characters convey the weight of their mission with urgency and valor. The atmospheric effect of having the camera follow them throughout the film makes for an intense viewing experience. The mission is a bit uncomfortable or unsettling at times with how close you feel to the characters. Due to its historical nature, I did some research to find out that the film is very loosely based on true events and not directly based on specific accounts. It’s a great movie overall that really separates itself as a unique experience. Rated R. 

Ryan