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About the Author
I’m a simple guy who loves to watch and talk about movies. I go to the movies on holidays, weekends, and will even venture to the theaters by myself. I may have single handedly caused MoviePass to go under with how often I used it. Will you enjoy your time at the movies? Check out my reviews to find out!

REVIEW: Da 5 Bloods

NETFLIX
Rated: R
Run Time: 154 minutes
Director: Spike Lee

Da 5 Bloods is a war drama film directed and produced by Spike Lee. The film stars Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, and Chadwick Boseman. The film follows a group of aging Vietnam War veterans who return to Vietnam in search of treasure they buried while stationed there. Otis (Peters), Paul (Lindo), Melvin (Whitlock) and Eddie (Lewis) journey through Vietnam to retrieve their squad commander’s (Boseman) remains for a proper military burial.

Spike Lee is known as one of Hollywood’s best storytellers and his films are typically referred to as “Spike Lee Joints.” Lee received a Master of Fine Arts degree from New York University in 1983, and his first feature-film, She’s Gotta Have It was released three years later. Over the course of his career Lee has directed 23 films and only 6 of them were not written by him. He has also starred in ten of them. His most famous works are She’s Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing (1989), Mo’ Better Blues (1990), Jungle Fever (1991), Malcolm X (1992), He Got Game (1998), 25th Hour (2002), Inside Man (2006), Chi-Raq (2015), and BlacKkKlansman (2018). In addition to his filmography, Lee has directed a number of music videos by artists such as Prince, Michael Jackson, and Eminem. His work has won him numerous awards including an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, a Student Academy Award, a BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, two Emmy Awards, two Peabody Awards, and the Cannes Grand Prix. Also interestingly, prior to Da 5 Bloods, Inside Man is his biggest box office hit, and BlacKkKlansman is the only film for which he has won an Academy Award. His films have explored race relations, colorism in the black community, the role of media in contemporary life, urban crime and poverty, and other social and political issues.

(From left to right) Director Spike Lee, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters and Norm Lewis of Da 5 Bloods | NETFLIX. Photo credit: David Lee.

The Story & Direction

As with many “Spike Lee Joints,” Lee is able to explore his themes and messages in a very compelling way. In Da 5 Bloods he is able to mix a fictional story with real-life imagery flawlessly. One of the most obvious allegories is how this film shows the duality of how war in general deals with the Black community. These men go fight for the United States against an enemy that did nothing directly to them. Then when they return to their home country, they are treated as secondary citizens. This idea can be applied to almost all veterans in general, but it is especially evident toward the Black community. The Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964 and American intervention in the war started only a year later. The country had just started to recognize that discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin was wrong. Even now, there are still problems in our country involving civil rights—not just people of color, but also women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, different religious groups, and people from different countries.

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DIRECTOR SPOTLIGHT: Spike Lee

The current social climate adds to Lee’s (mostly) engaging and thought-provoking film. The film highlights the disproportionate nature of the African American sacrifice in Vietnam; African Americans suffered disproportionately high casualty rates in Vietnam. In 1965 alone, they comprised 14.1% of total combat deaths when they were 11% of the total U.S. population at the time (1). Furthermore in 1966, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara initiated ‘Project 100,000’ which further lowered military standards which he said would provide valuable training, skills, and opportunity to America’s poor. This allowed many Black men who had previously been ineligible to be drafted along with many poor and racially intolerant white men from the US South. This led to increased racial tension in the military (2). Out of all of the newly eligible draftees, 41% were black. Blacks often made up a disproportionate 25% or more of combat units, while constituting only 12% of the military. 20% of black males were combat soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. At the end of the war, black casualties averaged 12.5% of US combat deaths (1).

The film also feeds into issues of Black patriotism, inequality, and justice. In one flashback, in the Vietnamese jungle, the five comrades learn of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They also learn of the rioting back home in response to MLK’s death and the brutal government response to the riots. The broadcaster then asks, “Why you fight against us so far away from where you are needed?” to which Lee overplays footage of the 1968 riots that look unfortunately similar to the past few weeks. The film is partially an attempt to reclaim the Vietnam War historical narrative, but it’s also a terrific heist drama. As the story reaches the completion of getting the gold, the film is only halfway. This makes the second half almost uncertain. Along the journey, there is some great cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel and the audience gets to know “Da 5 Bloods.”

Cast members in a scene of Da 5 Bloods | NETFLIX.

The Characters

This film has some amazing performances by the cast: the typical jester in Otis; grounded medic, Eddie; and the character, Paul, who is still haunted by his experience. They are also joined by Paul’s son, David. Lee is able to show this squad having a camaraderie that only occurs between brothers. The film starts off very similar to films like The Best Man (1999), Bridesmaids (2011), Last Vegas (2013), Going in Style (2017), and Girls Trip (2017)—this genre of films that have a bunch of friends getting back together to do one last big event. Whether you like that genre of film or not, one thing that they always have is chemistry between the stars. This adds an authentic feeling to them, and this film is no different in that aspect. All of the actors have chemistry with each other which makes each scene enjoyable. The standout is Lindo’s character who deals with guilt, greed, and PTSD. Lindo provides one of the best performances of the year so far, and his anti-hero never becomes cliche.

Lindo’s character, Paul, represents how so many veterans suffer from mental health issues after returning home from war. The film says people need counseling which some veterans can get and some cannot. It is said early on in the film that Paul doesn’t have a lot of money, so it is possible he cannot afford it. He is shown to be very proud, so even if he had money, he probably wouldn’t admit that he needed it. Plus, the older generation as a whole do not embrace therapy, especially minority populations (3). Lindo gives this character a very special performance. It’s very touching to see his friends rally around him when he is struggling. When his PTSD panic attack hits he thinks he’s all alone and that none of his friends will understand. This isn’t the case; they all have the same struggles and are in this together, adding to the realism of their brotherhood. The other actors are good, but Lindo definitely outshines them. The notion of Black servicemen fighting overseas for a country that disenfranchised them isn’t new but the way this film approaches it feels fresh. Boseman is not in the film too much but his charisma still finds a way to show itself.  His last scene in the film is very emotional and powerful. There’s also a small subplot dealing with one of the men and a local Vietnamese woman that touches on the many Amerasian children left behind in Vietnam after the war.

The Flaws

Unfortunately, some of the characters do feel awkward as not much is given to their backstory aside from a few one-liners here and there. Boseman isn’t in the film that much even though he has been shown to be a really good actor, e.g. 42 (2013), Get On Up (2014), and Marshall (2017). This is not to say his acting is poor in any way; in fact, it is really good, but his ability sadly feels wasted. He has proven to be a starring actor. Additionally, Lee’s writing has a lot going on in this film that does not use it’s 2.5 hour run time efficiently. He could have cut a few scenes here and there to make the story feel more fluid. The film’s pacing has some problems at the beginning that can feel rushed; the film switches that up and then slows down. The editing is also choppy at times and is very noticeable. There also appears to be no age disparity between the flashbacks and “present” day. Some of the actors look the exact same and also the “camera” footage that one of the characters was filming seemed very dated in comparison to the time period the film takes place in. (Maybe that’s the only working tech they have?) It’s never explained, though it is a cool aesthetic. One potential flaw for people could be how obvious Lee’s political views are in this film, which makes sense as he has always been outspoken on that matter.

Overall

Even with the odd pacing and not always efficient storytelling, this film has a good message that it is trying to get across. Spike Lee is one of the few directors that is able to tackle messages in both good and bad ways. In films like Da 5 Bloods, he is able do it with a great amount of brilliance. This film is extremely thrilling at times, and uses genre cliches in unique ways to reclaim a historical narrative. It works on pretty much every level. It will work as a conversation piece, an action movie, and a comedy. It gives the audience superb performances, especially by Lindo, and is able to bring back Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” as one of the best anti-war songs of all time. Spike Lee has made a movie that not only speaks about the past but also feel very relevant for today. Even if the obvious political opinions are taken out, Da 5 Bloods is one of the best movies of the year and is definitely recommendable to anyone.

Citations:

  1. Westheider, James E. Fighting on Two Fronts: African Americans and the Vietnam War; New York University Press; 1997; pp. 11–16
  2. Appy, Christian. Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers & Vietnam. University of North Carolina Press; 2003; pp. 31–33.
  3. Murry, V.M., Heflinger, C.A., Suiter, S.V. et al. Examining Perceptions About Mental Health Care and Help-Seeking Among Rural African American Families of Adolescents. J Youth Adolescence 40, 1118–1131 (2011).

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: My Hindu Friend

Rock Salt Releasing
Rated: Unrated
Run Time: 124 minutes
Director: Hector Babenco

My Hindu Friend is Brazilian drama film, directed and written by Hector Babenco, starring Willem Dafoe, Maria Fernanda Cândido, Bárbara Paz, Selton Mello and Reynaldo Gianecchini.

This film was made back in 2015, but due to the director’s passing directly after the premiere, it is only now being released this year. The reason why is likely due to the film being based on the director’s personal experiences. His stand-in character is Diego played by Dafoe who is diagnosed with cancer. While he is hospitalized, he meets and befriends another patient, a Hindu 8-year-old boy who is also battling his own sickness.

Brazilian filmmaker Babenco directed many films over the course of 40+ years. His most famous film is Kiss of the Spider Woman for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director—the first Latin American to be nominated in that category. This film is meant to be his swan song, and for that this film is fairly poetic. The film documents his real-life battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and his subsequent bone marrow transplant.

The Characters

At the beginning of the movie, Diego learns that his cancer has spread to his lungs and his doctor advises that he gets a bone marrow transplant. Undoubtedly, the shared sentiment with most cancer patients, Diego wants to live. The film then becomes an autobiographical series of snapshots including a wedding between Diego and his supporting partner, Livia (Maria Fernanda Cândido). The film then goes through every grueling step of treating Diego’s cancer: chemotherapy, removal of bone marrow samples, comatose nights that include visions of a mysterious otherworldly character. In an extremely meta way, Diego lets his passion for cinema and his friendship with the young Hindu boy (Rio Adlakha) give him a reason to live again, but it ends up being more difficult than he thought.

Willem Dafoe and Maria Fernanda Cândido in a scene of My Hindu Friend | Rock Salt Releasing.

Dafoe as Diego is mesmerizing as he is able to make the audience care for him and hate him at the same time. Diego is indifferent to the world and is miserable to his wife. He constantly accuses her of having affairs but expects her to be there for him when he can’t handle the pain anymore; however, because of the circumstances and Dafoe’s brilliant acting, audience members never hate him too much. Viewers understand that he’s in mortal fear of his life and he’s angry. Each scene feels very natural and realistic, and any viewer can feel the despair happening in this movie. Candido, as his dutiful partner, is also quite good, and her character’s relationship with Diego is the powerhouse point of the film.

The Flaws

The film really struggles with its balance between the serious aspects and outrageous aspects; the latter can really affect the viewing experience as they are so odd that they feel completely different from the prior scenes. They are there to be Diego’s hallucinations, but the transitions between them and real life feel really abrupt. The title of the film feels a little off since the interactions between Diego and the little Hindu boy are limited in comparison to those outside of the hospital. This may have been purposefully done; however, given the amount of hallucinations and the title of the film, it is not too clear on why it was done. The film does drag on a little bit which may dissuade some viewers.

Willem Dafoe in a scene of My Hindu Friend | Rock Salt Releasing.

Overall

It is fairly interesting to see how this film essentially had Babenco analyzing himself and (given this film is his last) it ends up giving more sympathy to the man’s career. The beauty of this film is in the small moments of this procedure where the audience gets to see the feelings of the characters. That is where Dafoe is perhaps at his best. This is another film in his resume that shows he is one of Hollywood’s most under-appreciated actors. This film may not be perfect and it is odd at times but it is very touching when it tackles themes of mortality and rediscovering life. This film is definitely worth checking out as it is a rather surreal experience that allows the viewer to see how Babenco confronts death. It is now on Amazon Prime.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

The Importance of Superheroes

Artwork from the DC Extended Universe | DC Comics & Warner Bros. Pictures

During this ongoing pandemic, yours truly was participating in the social media trend of a “30 Day Film Challenge” where participants refer to one film each day under a specific category, such as “the first film that you remember watching.” When I arrived on Day 10, the category was “Your Favorite Superhero Film“—and I hit a wall. Each day was pretty easy, or I did not take it as seriously. The Superhero film genre has hit an all-time high, with one (Avengers: Endgame) even setting the box office record for any movie ever made. We, as a film community, have started to think Superhero films matter more now than ever. I oddly thought this question was more serious than it probably needed to be.

This decision was difficult—there have been numerous films that could fall under this category, and I also started to think about what makes viewers enjoy themselves so much during these films. No matter your gender, sex, race, or ethnicity, there is a superhero film that you attach yourself to. Before early Thursday night screenings became a thing, many viewers would attend the midnight screenings dressed up for the newest movie in a connected superhero universe or as billionaire vigilantes. After leaving the theater, we spent months on end debating who or which is the best! “Who is the best Batman?” or the “MCU vs DCEU” debate. These conversations transcend the fandoms and even reach those who are not connected to social media and pop culture. Everyone has their favorite representation of a character or their favorite superhero—but why?

Superheroes are meant to inspire. They represent someone we are not, or someone that can do things that we can’t. They can provide an escape into a world where someone is there for us even when our protectors or our medical and social institutions have let us down. Anger and sadness are commonplace emotions felt throughout our society because of the regular injustices we see or even experience ourselves: unjust murders because of racial tensions and prejudices; governments’ inability or flat out refusal to act; betrayal by those we loved or considered friends; our world is full of struggles that seem to find you no matter your background or social status.

Christopher Reeve and Helen Slater pose as Superman and Supergirl respectively. | Warner Bros. Pictures

People want to believe in the existence of fictional figures like Superman or Supergirl—someone they could depend on to save them when the humans who are supposed to either can’t or won’t. We want a person like Steve Rogers (Captain America) to do what the rest of us aren’t courageous enough to do and take a stand when it’s not convenient to do so. We want someone that brave enough to say, “I can do this all day.” Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are told that real life superheroes exist in our healthcare facilities, in our schools, and at other times, in the military and police. We are constantly shown and told how “not all superheroes wear capes.” But what happens when that’s not enough? Numerous times in history people who are in a position to help choose not to act. People who are recognized as “ordinary” heroes might let down those looking up to them and expecting them to be there or to be there for them. Superheroes serve a purpose in filling this void.

Clinical psychologist, Robin Rosenberg wrote, “[superhero stories help us in] finding meaning in loss and trauma, discovering our strengths and using them for a good purpose.” She stated that “superheroes undergo three types of life-altering experiences that we can relate to:”

  1. Trauma
  2. Destiny
  3. Choice
From Batman: Year One | Art by David Mazzucchelli

Trauma; such as the one that young Bruce Wayne goes through. He makes a promise to his murdered parents to fight against the crime in Gotham City. Rosenburg states that this is directly applicable to a lot of real life scenarios. Her past research has shown that many people experience growth “after a trauma and resolve to help others, even becoming social activists.”

Destiny; similar to that of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She’s a normal teenager who discovers she’s the “Chosen One” to fight demons. She has to be the one who does not have a normal life and will take on this burden. Sometimes we are thrown into scenarios that we may not have predicted but we have to adapt and push through anyway.

A snippet from Amazing Fantasy #15, Vol. 1 | Marvel Comics 1962

Rosenberg’s last type of experience is similar to what Spider-Man goes through. When he initially gets his powers, he uses it for selfish reasons until his beloved Uncle Ben is killed. This type of experience is similar to the first, but instead of the trauma defining the hero, it’s the choice that matters. No matter whether ‘your’ Spider-Man is Peter Parker, Miles Morales, or Peter Porker, this choice exists. They could stay wrestling for money to pay rent; they could stay home and be a normal kid instead of saving the multiverse. The choice to do what is right versus what is easy is a choice that we, as humans, make every day. Rosenberg states that, “[superheroes] inspire us and provide models of coping with adversity, finding meaning in loss and trauma, discovering our strengths and using them for good purpose” (link). We want to attach ourselves to these characters; we want to see them in ourselves; we want to see those with fantastical abilities are still imperfect and relatable, and we are comforted by seeing them struggle with ordinary problems and still do the right thing in the end.

Recent research from Kyoto University in Japan shows that this “choice” can happen even before we learn how to speak. Their study had preverbal infants shown short animations in which one character purposely bumps into another. They then showed the infants a third character who could either prevent it from happening or not do anything at all. The infants consistently wanted the third character to help and prevent the pain. This study showed that even though they could not speak they recognized what heroism was and wanted it to happen.

“Six-month-old infants are still in an early developmental stage, and most will not yet be able to talk. Nevertheless they can already understand the power dynamics between these different characters, suggesting that recognizing heroism is perhaps an innate ability.”

David Bulter – “Preverbal infants affirm third-party interventions that protect victims from aggressors” (link to article)

This idea is then touched on again in the television show What Would You Do? People are shown how ordinary people behave when they are confronted with dilemmas that require them either to take action or to stand by and mind their own business. Each scenario has the viewer hoping for the regular people to step in and stop whatever the situation is. We all want to be that person who does what’s right even when it’s not easy. Data suggests that feelings are one of the stronger reasons why audience members connect to certain heroes (link). Personally, I attach myself to stories of people and characters who have gone through trauma and stand up to those who are wrong. As Batman, Daredevil and the X-Men deal with their respective issues, I cope with what I have gone through and deal with my own conflicts.

In the past, and still now today, society often sees comics and comic book movies as only enjoyed by children or “nerds.” With Black Panther becoming the highest-grossing solo superhero film of all time, Avengers: Endgame becoming the highest-grossing film of all time, and a multitude of films winning Academy Awards for both their performances and their technical aspects, this is clearly not true. More people enjoy these characters outside of children and “nerds” than ever before. There are films that are clearly made more for children than older crowds, but there are just as many that are for adults and have many more important themes. Superheroes have become the modern-day mythology that tackles issues, from the struggles of high school to mental illnesses. No matter which superhero you attach yourself to, or when you attach yourself to them, there is no denying the effect that they have on our lives.

Which superhero do you identify with the most? Or which superhero has inspired you the most? Let me know down in the comments section below!

REVIEW: Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Focus Features
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 101 minutes
Director: Eliza Hittman

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a drama film written and directed by Eliza Hittman. It stars Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, and Sharon Van Etten. It was originally released in theaters on March 13, 2020; however, because of the Coronavirus pandemic, it only made a little over $16,000 and as such was released on digital at the beginning of April.

The Story & Direction

The film is about Autumn (played by Flanigan), a teenage girl from a small town in rural Pennsylvania who finds out that she is pregnant. Not having the best parental figures, she hides her pregnancy from them. Her small town only leaves her with a few options but she decides there is only one way out of her situation. She and her cousin, Skylar (played by Ryder), scrape together what money they can and catch a bus to New York to get an abortion. The film’s pacing feels similar to a thriller at times because of what these two girls go through.

The film is very solemn and relatively simple, yet it is an authentic story of a lower-middle-class teen facing an unexpected pregnancy and doing her best to deal with it. There have been other films such as 2007’s Juno that have dealt with the same topic, however this film feels very current and also very nonjudgmental towards this young girl who must make a very difficult decision.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is not meant to be a blockbuster but rather a film about choice. This film also looks into the discomforts that many girls and women feel with come-ons, harassment, and inappropriate behavior that can happen regularly. Men are not looked at in a positive light in this film, but it is meaningful in its portrayal. While not all men are similar to those shown in this film, there are definitely a good amount that are and these are the ones the film is representing. The film demonstrates that there are possibilities for men and/or boys to be scumbags no matter their age or location. Hittman shows this in the local supermarket where old men try to invite the main characters to a party while also dealing with their boss’s harassment. There are less obvious demonstrations of this from Autumn’s stepfather who describes their loving dog as a “slut,” who is “easy” to please. Their efforts to get help from a man has to be exchanged for something else in return.

Heavy, emotional themes are abundant throughout, and show how often our ability to make decisions about our own health is so often not our decision to make. Hittman shows all of this through Autumn’s story, even with the lack of a film score. The film’s silence makes the film pass slowly, but this helps to build up the plot and keep the film engaging throughout the entire runtime.

The Characters

Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder in a scene of Never Rarely Sometimes Always | Focus Features

Autumn and Skylar are working-class teenagers in a man’s world. Their resources and opportunities are dependent on the men in their lives, for better or for worse; though in this movie’s case, it’s more of the latter than the former. At the beginning of the film, Autumn stands on an auditorium stage performing at a high school talent show. She is clearly one of the better performers as she follows an Elvis impersonator. She gets on stage and plays on her acoustic guitar a cover version of “He’s Got the Power,” by the Exciters. The song is supposed to be about a man who has a woman fall in love with him and changes her life. By looking at Autumn, one would think she would play a more lively version of the song but her version is filled with pain. When she sings the lyrics, “He makes me do things I don’t want to do and “he’s got the power—the power of love over me,” any viewer will know that her interpretation of that line is not the same as the original song. This is the only time in the film that shows her outgoing side, and a real effort to be herself, only for someone in the audience to mutter “slut” at the end of her performance, and her stepfather being forced to compliment Autumn on her performance.

It’s plain to see that Autumn does not have many friends, and her parents do not seem to care for her much either. Her cousin is the only one there for her in a world that would be so much more lonely without each other. Flanigan portrays Autumn as a person who expresses very little emotion, but it helps to make her more intriguing. Very little is explained about who she is through dialogue. Flannigan makes Autumn’s eyes mesmerizing as there is a mystery that is not given to the audience in an obvious way. There is no indication of how she became pregnant or who the father might be. Viewers have to see her story play out, and, unfortunately, end up having to assume the worst when it comes to her love life. The film shows numerous sexual predators, from boys at her school to men on buses and trains.

Both Flanigan and Ryder both gave amazing performances, with Flanigan’s being the standout. Each moment she had on screen was done so well. Each scene that they have together shows them becoming closer and closer as cousins and as friends. Flanigan is able to take single words and make them have meaning. There is even a scene that has no words but it is just as powerful. This scene shows Autumn and Skyler clasping hands, and given what is happening around them, you can just feel their friendship. Flanigan also shows her acting ability in a scene involving the Manhattan clinic where she is required to answer questions with the titular answers. This questionnaire pushes Autumn to answer very uncomfortable questions that most likely she has never been asked before. Over the course of the film, Hittman has brought her audience to care for Autumn. She shows Autumn dealing with many encounters with sexual predators, while she is able to push her feelings down and ignore them; however, like most of us, Autumn has a limit. She hits her limit when she has to talk to a counselor and ends up breaking down. This scene will tear any viewer’s heart out.

One of the most interesting bits of the film is that Autumn is seemingly awake for the entire film. She does not sleep for multiple days until she is back on her bus headed home. She feels absolutely relieved after her journey and after everything she has endured. Even though she is aware that her struggles are not over, she learns to take her victories when she can.

The Flaws

This film deals with a very heavy topic that may upset some who disagree with its overall message. It also can be difficult to watch, not only for its themes but also because of the grim feeling of the film. However, if neither of those things are big issues for you, then there’s not much else to critique regarding the overall quality of the film.

Overall

This film is not about Autumn’s love-life or how she became pregnant, rather, it is about her choice in the matter and the difficulties she faces once she has made a choice. This film is one of the best films I’ve seen that demonstrates women’s rights without it feeling forced. Hittman puts these two young teenage girls in a very believable situation and shows how life does not give easy paths for everyone. It’s a simple story with a very powerful message that can be viewed by almost everyone. In the case of the stay-at-home advisories, this film is definitely a stream, but if normal situations were in place, it would definitely be a “Go See It” in theaters.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: Lone Star Deception

TriCoast Entertainment
Rated: TV-14
Run Time: 106 minutes
Directors: Don Okolo & Robert Peters

Lone Star Deception is a drama film about Tim Bayh who is the first black candidate to run for Governor in Texas’ history, just after the first candidate withdraws due to a prostitution scandal. Bayh has to survive assassination attempts and face down his own demons. The film stars Eric Roberts and Anthony Ray Parker and was directed by Don Okolo and Robert O. Peters.

The Story/The Direction

Bill Sagle (Eric Roberts) finds out that his nephew is being blackmailed. If his nephew doesn’t pull out of the race, a compromising video will be released. Sagle and his wealthy, white colleagues now need to figure out who they are going to replace as candidate to run for governor. Sagle chooses Tim Bayh (Anthony Ray Parker, Dozer from The Matrix), as the new gubernatorial candidate. Bayh is an African American man who works for Sagle but has zero political background or experience; furthermore, Bayh has been a registered Democrat all of his life, clearly demonstrating how well-thought out their plan was… Or not. Bayh agrees to run as a Republican just as long as it doesn’t conflict with his values. The main reason Bayh is chosen by this group of wealthy individuals is based on the premise that his race will “guarantee” them the win because “it worked for Obama.”

The Characters

Eric Roberts is the star of the movie and his dialogue shows it. While this may not be the best film of his career, the film was seemingly written for his character to do fine. The rest of the cast are honestly forgettable or not worth mentioning—at least positively.

Anthony Ray Parker and Eric Roberts appear in a scene of Lone Star Deception | TriCoast Entertainment

The Flaws

Where to begin? First off, this is a terribly written film. Real-estate-developer-turned-writer Ed DeZecallos has this story (or lack of story) full of the cheesiest of cheesy one-liners. In addition, Tim’s candidacy for Governor is compared to Obama’s 2008 presidential run time and time again. It’s really hard to tell if the writer really loves Obama or if he was the only African American politician he knew of. It’s understandable to say Obama was the first African American President and that’s why they want to use Bayh in a similar fashion; however, there are numerous other African American governor candidates and/or actual governors they could have used as examples. Maybe this was done on purpose to show that rich white men in Texas are unfamiliar with these other African American political leaders? It’s definitely not made clear through the writing. In addition to the poor writing, the story makes no logical sense. When Bill’s nephew commits suicide, those involved in the blackmailing still want to go through with it, so Bill tells his governor candidate to “handle it,” which he does through scenes that are seemingly there to push Parker as more of an action star. Obviously this is another problem that could prevent his chances of being elected, but with this type of writing that was not the case.

The postproduction on this film was also terribly orchestrated. At multiple points in the movie the scene switches from normal visuals to some type of a yellow tint and back again to normal. This might be due to how they filmed the movie or the cameras they used, however, it looks absolutely atrocious. To say the acting is bad would be a compliment to the film. Parker stumbles over the dialogue multiple times and pauses awkwardly. This may have been done to add tension but failed to do so. Rather, it was odd and the only explanation is that there was a “no second takes” policy on set.

Overall

This 106-minute film had probably an hour of extra footage. The quality feels similar to a movie put out on YouTube in 2008. Most straight-to-home movies usually have small budgets but there’s some passion that would make the film somewhat watchable—that does not seem to be the case here. If readers have absolutely nothing better to watch during the Coronavirus pandemic, they may enjoy the film as it could fall into the “so bad it’s good” genre, but that’s about it. If they have other films they want to watch, this one is definitely worth skipping all together.

Now, what did you think of the film? Let me know in the comments section, and hit me up on social media.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

DIRECTOR SPOTLIGHT: Akira Kurosawa

Japanese director Akira Kurosawa

As the son of a Japanese immigrant, Akira Kurosawa was embedded into my life at a very young age. Kurosawa has inspired some of the world’s most successful directors; he was highly regarded by Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, where the latter even referred to him as “the pictorial Shakespeare of our time.”

Background

Kurosawa was born in Tokyo, Japan on March 23, 1910 and was the youngest of four sisters and four brothers. His family could trace their lineage back to 11th century Samurai. As he grew older, he became close with his elder brother, Heigo. Kurosawa later said that he and his brother “would go to the movies, particularly silent movies, and then discuss them all day” (McDonald, William. The New York Times Book of the Dead: Obituaries of Extraordinary People. Black Dog & Leventhal, 2016).  Eventually, he started working as an assistant director right before World War II.

Directing and International Fame

Toshiro Mifune and Machiko Kyo in a scene of Rashomon (1950) | Daiei Film

He started directing films in 1941, but it was not until 1950 that he shocked the world with his film, Rashomon, about the psychological struggle over the nature of truth itself. Rashomon went on to win an Honorary Academy Award for ‘Most Outstanding Foreign Language Film’ and Akira Kurosawa’s name became forever embedded into history. Rashomon marked the entrance of Japanese film onto the world stage. This also came at a time where the United States had defeated Japan in World War II just six years prior.

After Rashomon, Kurosawa went on to direct The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Hidden Fortress and many more films. Over his 57-year career, Kurosawa directed 30 films and won over 50 awards worldwide for his cinematic work. Some of his accolades include a ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ Academy Award in 1976 for Dersu Uzala, a ‘Lifetime Achievement’ Academy Award in 1990, and a Directors Guild of America’s ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ in 1992. 

His Style

Some may say that Kurosawa’s films can feel a bit slow because there are long periods between the main plot points. However, if one is only watching a Kurosawa film for the action scenes, they are already missing the point of the film—Kurosawa uses repetition in his films’ stories to show how life is cyclical. He also uses pauses internationally so the audience will analyze what has come before the pause and then understand the following results. Kurosawa’s most important theme is drawn from his personal belief that humans are fundamentally good. A film’s ability to affect the audience through its themes and messages are qualities of a good film. Kurosawa took that one step further and embedded that idea into his film-making process.

His Impact

George Lucas showing Akira Kurosawa details of a Snowspeeder during the making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Kurosawa is the man who opened Asian cinema to Western audiences. While some film junkies may not have ever seen his films, they for sure have seen the films he inspired, or other adaptionations that are based on his films. Rashomon has inspired numerous films such as The Usual Suspects, Gone Girl, Vantage Point, Hoodwinked, and several Quentin Tarentino films. George Lucas’s Star Wars was based on Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress. 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars starring Clint Eastwood is a remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. 2016’s The Magnificent Seven starring Chris Pratt is a very loose remake of the original 1969 The Magnificent Seven, which was a remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai; this film was also the inspiration behind Three Amigos and A Bug’s Life. Kurosawa has also influenced the film world in other ways, from editing to how a scene is blocked. Both current and future movie fans across the globe can learn a lot from Japanese cinema and other Asian films.

Akira Kurosawa stands between George Lucas (left) and Steven Spielberg (right) after receiving his Honorary Academy Award at the 62nd Academy Awards

Early on in his career, Kurosawa had to overcome post-WWII sentiments and prejudice, specifically in the United States—anti-Japanese and anti-Asian propaganda was abundant. Much has changed since then; there have been two Academy Awards for Best Picture given to Asian directors (Ang Lee in 2013 for Life of Pi and Bong Joon Ho in 2019 for Parasite). Four Asian directors (including Kurosawa) have been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director (Ang Lee, Bong Joon Ho and Hiroshi Teshigahara). Both Ang Lee and Bong Joon Ho won the Oscar for Best Director for their aforementioned films. It’s safe to say that these modern directors would not have accomplished what they have without the foundations laid by Kurosawa. Progress has been made in recognizing quality filmmaking at the international level, but we still have a long way to go.

Kurosawa’s embedded themes still resonate with viewers today. If you have not seen any of his films, Throne of Blood, Ran, Kagemusha, plus the others mentioned in this article are a good place to start. If you’d like to check out Kurosawa’s entire directing work, click HERE to see the rest of his filmography.

How many Akira Kurosawa’s films have you seen? Let me know in the comments section or hit me up on social media.

REVIEW: Bloodshot

Sony Pictures
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 109 minutes
Director: David S.F. Wilson

The Story/The Direction:

Bloodshot is a superhero film based on the Valiant Comics character of the same name. It is supposed to be the first installment in a series of films set within a Valiant Comics shared cinematic universe. The film was directed by first-timer David S.F. Wilson. It obviously stars Vin Diesel, and has Eiza González, Sam Heughan, Toby Kebbell, and Guy Pearce as co-stars. Bloodshot tells the story of a marine who was killed-in-action, only to be brought back to life with technological superpowers by an organization that wants to use him as a weapon.

If viewers have seen and liked a Vin Diesel action film before, there is a lot of stuff in this to like as well. This film has a muscular man running around with explosions, shootouts, and beatdowns. Most of the action scenes in this film, aside from the first one, are pretty well done and engaging—they definitely look a whole lot better than other Diesel films. The pacing is pretty decent, and one who enjoys the action won’t feel bored as there are a lot of quick cuts during fight scenes. The director’s experience with computer graphics (CG) is noticeable in the action scenes in both good and bad ways. The good is that some of the action looks very coherent and engaging. 

The Characters:

While I have never read the Valiant Comics’ ‘Bloodshot,’ it does have a lot of fans, both domestically and internationally; and when Diesel is added as the character—who also has his own fanbase—theoretically, a good film would be produced. Diesel himself does do a decent job as this action hero who grunts and flexes some decent action sequences. He kicks a lot of butt, which is the most that can be expected from a film like this. His character basically looks like he should have been from TerminatorGenisys in some scenes. This actually looks fairly cool and keeps the film entertaining. He does add his characteristic machismo which effectively makes him an action hero, but the actor’s performance itself doesn’t bring any depth to the role.

Vin Diesel’s character shown regenerating after being shot in a scene of Bloodshot | Sony Pictures

The Flaws:

Overall, however, this is not a good film. The CGI is really bad at points, the characters are very underdeveloped, and the story is all over the place. There is even a line of dialogue in the film that has Pearce’s character, Dr. Emil Harting, making fun of one of his designer’s stories because he had done every cliché in the book, which honestly seems meta in a way? Because this film is really—and I mean really—cliché. Pearce is okay, but he really isn’t that villainous as an evil-scientist character. He seems more emphatic towards his creations than anything. There is a comedy in this film which seems off from a film aspect. If this film had been made more as a complete action story, it could have been better. The comedy made me laugh, but that was from how corny it is than anything else. Also for a film called, ‘Bloodshot,’ there is very little blood. This is probably due to the PG-13 rating, and maybe an R rating would have made this film better in that aspect. However, this film is probably marketing for young teenagers, which an R rating would prevent them from seeing it. 

Overall:

Bloodshot is a popcorn movie that one might want to watch while doing laundry. It does have solid action scenes and a relentless pace that normally would have been really good for a 4DX theater. The film definitely was fun to see in this format, but it is not needed as viewers probably won’t be watching this film too many times, or would be willing to pay extra. It’s a shame because Diesel is put into a terribly written film that could have been so much more. However, it does have some solid Vin Diesel action and thus some entertainment value, but maybe wait for it to be on television or a streaming service. If you’re not a fan of Vin Diesel, skip it altogether.

Now, what did you think of the film? Let me know in the comments section, and hit me up on social media. The Formal Review is on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Recommendation: MAYBE A MATINEE

All 24 ‘BOND’ Theme Songs Ranked

Grammy winner Billie Eilish and brother/collaborator Finneas O’Connell wrote “No Time To Die” for the new 007 film.

Music is part of a film: both as instrumental scores and vocal performances. Music in a film can have the ability to shape emotional responses, create rhythms in scenes, and/or to comment on the action. With the release of Billie Eilish’s “No Time to Die” (along with the newest Bond film, No Time to Die) makes one wonder what precisely is the best theme and why? People have had heated debates on who is the best portrayal of the Bond character but the themes aren’t debated as much. The purpose of a theme is to establish a mood and to provide an audible cue that reminds one of the film. The instrumental Bond theme starts off increasing with intensity right up to the guitar riff and then it repeats until it reaches the climax. This song has anyone instantly thinking of ‘James Bond’. This is what a song with vocals has to do. As No Time to Die is apparently the final chapter in the Daniel Craig Bond series, one should go back and look at everything that has come before it. The theme songs are as important as the films themselves and deserve a glance at what makes them good or bad, and why. A successful song will have recognizable notes that make the listener feel like they are driving an Aston Martin instead of their Ford Focus, or drinking a martini instead of their Bud Light.

24. “For Your Eyes Only” – Sheena Easton in For Your Eyes Only

This ballad sounds good by Easton but it is completely out of place for a Bond film. It tries to add what Carly Simon did with “Nobody Does It Better” but it feels like it belongs in a corny romance movie. This song is on the list is because there has to be a “worst” song.

23. “Die Another Day” – Madonna in Die Another Day

Madonna’s biggest songs come from the 1980s but seemingly this feels exactly that: it has synthesizers and her voice is distorted. There is some violin in the background but this song was definitely a step back from other films’ songs. It seemed to care about making the song a pop hit that could play on the radio. Like the film it represents, this song seems to die as soon as it starts. The only reason is that it is not 24 is that “For Your Eyes Only” is definitely worse.

22. “A View to a Kill” – Duran Duran in A View to a Kill

This song is straight out of the 1980s, as one would expect when listening to Duran Duran. It can transport listeners to the 1980s very successfully with synthesizers. It’s as if someone combined Billy Joel and Phil Collins. However, the 80s were not known for elegance, which really takes listeners away from the “Bond” effect.

21. “We Have All the Time in the World” – Louis Armstrong in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

If one listens to this song outside of the Bond world, it is very good. When one listens to Louis Armstrong’s voice in the context of the film, he is able to sing about love and sorrow that speaks to the film’s plot. However, Armstrong’s voice transports the listener to Italy or France—not to the place in between where the film takes place, Switzerland. Would listeners think of Bond for this song? Not really.

20. “You Only Live Twice” – Nancy Sinatra in You Only Live Twice

While the opening few notes feel similar to the Bond theme and the song has ability to transport the listener, the song does not contribute a look at the character of Bond or give any danger to the film. Also, the film takes place in Japan and this song won’t transport the listener to Japan, but rather Italy which makes no sense. The song is nice in itself but does not scream “Bond.”

19. “Moonraker” – Shirley Bassey in Moonraker

While Shirley Bassey is very well known for her Bond songs, this is her weakest song seeing as it does not add much to Bond’s character. It’s not awful (mostly because of Bassey’s voice) but it’s not that memorable either. Her voice can go as far as the stars, as Bond does in the film, but the song itself fails to take off.

18. “Another Way to Die” – Jack White and Alicia Keys in Quantum of Solace

Alicia Keys has the voice to make a fantastic James Bond theme; however, her mashup with Jack White seems off. It feels that the studio wanted to keep the rock aspect that Cornell brought with “You Know My Name.” Unfortunately, this song has a lot of messy aspects that touch on Bond’s qualities. In that sense, however, it does match the film that it is from very well.

17. “All-Time High” – Rita Coolidge in Octopussy

Unlike Easton’s attempt, this song is able to keep some of the qualities that James Bond is known for. The saxophone, strings, piano, guitar, and band combination, takes the audience to a similar place as Carly Simon but it is not as successful. The lyrics say “all-time high” but it only reaches the “all-time mediocre” level of Bond songs.

16. “The Living Daylights” – A-ha in The Living Daylights

Similar to “A View to Kill,” this song screams “the 1980s” with its synthesizers. However, this time around, A-ha keeps some of the traditional horns in their song. This gives a mysterious feeling to this obviously 1980s song, which does do some good work on taking a listener to a James Bond living in the 80s. However, again, the 80s were not known for their elegance.

15. “From Russia with Love” – Matt Monro in From Russia with Love

This song was released with the second film in the series. It seems to touch on the traveling aspect of Bond (he does travel to a lot of exotic places such as Russia or Italy); however, the song seems really out of place as it feels like a combination of the places that Bond travels to in the film. The film takes place mostly in Turkey and Russia but begins in Jamaica and ends in Italy. Having the theme sound similar to some of those makes sense but this song feels safe. It’s not a bad song by any means and it gives a very lounge feeling. Listeners can feel like they are traveling with Bond but it does not speak to the character.

14. “Nobody Does It Better” – Carly Simon in The Spy Who Loved Me.

Although Bond is mostly known for having a different woman in every film, Carly Simon’s ballad differs from a lot of the Bond theme songs as it gives this loving side of Bond that viewers haven’t seen before. Though a new woman is introduced in the film, it still adds a mystery of who is this woman that Bond loves? There is a slight elegance to the way Simon sings which does allow for some reconnection with the Bond character.

13. “Live and Let Die” – Paul McCartney and Wings in Live and Let Die.

As a former Beatle, McCartney is able to lure his listeners on name alone. He croons for the first 47 seconds then he adds a change in key and a guitar riff. Each time before the instrumental chorus hits, the song hypes up the song. McCartney seems to say that James Bond is no longer the man who you think he is: he is no longer only the suave man he was but he is now someone to look at as an action hero; he is able to fight with intensity. Even though there is one bit of the song that seems out of place (1:27), this song speaks James Bond; however, it doesn’t scream James Bond as some of the other songs do. Outside of the James Bond context, though, it is one of the most popular among most listeners.

12. “Tomorrow Never Dies” – Sheryl Crow in Tomorrow Never Dies

This song starts off like a lot of the other songs do: teasing you of the world behind it. Crow’s lyrics and vocals are fairly captivating and capture the essence of a good Bond song. Some of the lyrics even state precisely what a Bond film is known for. It may not be the top of the list but it is definitely a very good Bond theme song though the title of the song/film may seem off.

11. “Thunderball” – Tom Jones in Thunderball

This theme has obviously been inspired by John Barry with its horns, and is very similar to “Goldfinger,” but not as good. It isn’t bad by any means, but it does feel unoriginal as the only difference is the singer and the film’s plot.

10. “The World Is Not Enough” – Garbage in The World is Not Enough

The title of the song alone speaks to the Bond character. He has everything he wants: women, cars, a good job, and a license to kill—but he is still not fulfilled. Garbage’s name does not speak the song’s quality; the loud orchestra and the vocals of Shirley Manson successfully keep to the man of mystery’s origins. Although it’s still good, it feels a little short of some of the other theme songs.

9. “Licence to Kill” – Gladys Knight in Licence to Kill

This film is one of mt favorite James Bond films because he steps away from MI6, something he hasn’t done before. Sometimes he has to speak to his idea of justice and stop caring about being covert. While this may not be a typical Bond film, it is a remake of him and is almost a comparable character to Batman. This film’s song is obviously a remake of “Goldfinger,” but works well to speak to the character. It screams “the 1980s” with its synthesizers, but still transports us to an earlier time, thanks to Knight’s voice. She is able to twist this 80’s song into a Motown love ballad. However, the only thing that makes the song feel Bond-like is the use of Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger.”

8. “The Man with the Golden Gun” – Lulu in The Man with the Golden Gun

The introduction does feel very Bond-like and Lulu is able to replicate the feeling felt in “Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey—she sings about the villains and uses some great instrumentals. It is a little more of a pop song than the other songs below it on this list; however, that’s not really a bad thing because it screams about the popularity of James Bond.

7. “No Time to Die” – Billie Eilish in No Time to Die

On the first listen, Eilish’s voice does not fit the Bond theme. She seems to mumble a lot of her lyrics. The song feels epic but her voice does not replicate that. This feeling can continue on to the second and maybe the third listening. After perhaps a few more listens (and also listening to how other Bond songs have sounded) her new song is not that bad, but that feels more due to the instrumentals than her singing. Her voice sounds creepy but also mysterious, which speaks to the Bond character on the later point. When she hits the climactic note, it feels almost similar to Adele’s “Skyfall.” But overall, the song does depend on the instrumentals more than her voice. The instrumentals feel exactly how a Bond theme should. It can definitely grow on someone after a few listens that may make people appreciate Eilish’s addition to the list of Bond themes.

6. “Goldeneye” – Tina Turner in Goldeneye

The title alone will instantly say that there is a similarity to Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger.” The way it uses strings and horns is also very similar; but that does not mean this song is not unique. Turner’s voice is her own and the song speaks for itself on why it belongs at the top of this list. It starts off by creating an environment of mystery but the lyrics state that there is romance and revenge in the shadows. When Turner sings, “This time I won’t miss, now I’ve got you in my sight,” listeners know that studios have realized what works for Bond songs and asked themselves, “If something isn’t broken, why should you fix it?” This song still has some 80’s feel to it but it transports the listener right back into a Bond film in the best way possible.

5. “Writing’s on the Wall” – Sam Smith in Spectre

In 2015, Sam Smith was known for his ballads which are mostly about breakups—Smith’s performance is fairly representative of Bond. He searches for love but is unable to in his line of work. The epicness of the instrumentals adds to Smith’s voice, which fits perfectly well into a Bond theme. It is the second film to hit #1 on the Billboard charts, and it is the second to win an Oscar. However, it does feel a slight bit of a let down after Adele’s “Skyfall.” Similar to how Michael Jackson’s “Bad” album was considered a let down after “Thriller” because of the latter’s enormous success.

4.”You Know My Name” – Chris Cornell in Casino Royale

As the film was the start of a new Bond in Daniel Craig, Cornell seems to state that, even so the audience knows who he is singing about. While it is not a ballad and more of a rock song, Cornell still establishes a very good update to the Bond songs. The song has more guitars that create this dangerous and new feel. It almost feels like listeners have heard this song before but not really. This song is almost perfect as a Bond song but not quite there as it doesn’t convey elegance but it speaks it while shouting mystery and danger.

3. “Diamonds Are Forever” – Shirley Bassey in Diamonds are Forever

Though the production of diamonds is questionable at best, they are known to be shiny and supposedly “a girl’s best friend.” They are the toughest mineral on the planet and can have ages between 1 billion and 3.5 billion years. James Bond is known for his elegance, so connecting these two items makes complete sense; and when Shirley Bassey is said to add even more elegance, listeners know what to expect. Her returning voice sings about how diamonds will never lie but the music says that there is something hidden behind the beauty. The instrumentals feel eerie in a way that produces a mystery that the elegant James Bond must figure out.

2. “Skyfall” – Adele in Skyfall

Prior to 2012, there was perhaps one artist that almost everyone wanted to sing a Bond song—and that was Adele. At the time, she was riding the high of her second album, 21, and people were comparing her to Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James. Everyone knew that it was coming, and boy did it arrive with a bang. Adele’s powerful voice captures the mood and style of the previous themes while also keeping the dark and moody aspect of the film. The song made Daniel Craig cry, and it was the first Bond song to win an Oscar.

1. ” Goldfinger” – Shirley Bassey in Goldfinger

This has become one of the most iconic songs when it comes to Bond. One who listens will instantly think 007. It starts off with very epic and loud trumpets that establish who the villain of the film is. This starts the 1964 film with a knowledge of who Bond will face. Any listener can hear the inspiration from John Barry in the song. The instrumentals also scream suave and this ballad by Bassey instantly places you in a lounge sipping on a martini, shaken not stirred. She is about to tell her audience a story and everyone is ready to listen.

Well, there you have it. All 24 ‘BOND’ movie theme songs. I’d love to know what your thoughts are on these iconic songs, and which are you favorite(s). Let me know in the comments below.

REVIEW: The Call of the Wild

20th Century Studios
Rated: PG
Run Time: 100 minutes
Director: Chris Sanders

The Story/The Direction

The Call of the Wild is an adventure film based on the Jack London 1903 novel of the same name, with numerous other cinematic versions of the story. The film is directed by Chris Sanders—in his live-action directorial debut—and stars Harrison Ford, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford, and Colin Woodell. It takes place in the 1890’s Klondike Gold Rush. A dog named ‘Buck’ is stolen from his home in California and sent to Canada, where he befriends Thornton (played by Ford). Buck gets in touch with his ancestral wild side and his experiences change his life forever. This story was previously adapted into a silent film in 1923 and then again in 1935, 1972 and 1997 with dialogue, starring Jack Mulhall, Clark Gable, Charlton Heston, and Rutger Hauer as Thornton, respectively.

For those who did not read the book in their middle school or high school English classes, the novel deals with a Christian theme of love and redemption. It also is about the survival of the fittest as London puts Buck in conflict with humans, other dogs, and the environment itself. He must challenge, survive, and conquer all of these conflicts. Buck is a domesticated dog at the beginning of the story but he must change to survive. He must learn to get in touch with his ancestral instincts and become a wild animal. The law of the pack rules, and good-natured animals can be torn to pieces; as such, London also looks at “nature vs. nurture”. Raised as a pet, Buck is (by heredity) a wolf. The change of environment brings up his innate characteristics and strengths to the point where he fights for survival and becomes the leader of the pack. 

The 1935 film has become more famous for its off-screen problems between its stars of Gable and Loretta Young which I’ll get to in a minute. Aside from the issues behind the scenes, this movie really changes the protagonist of the original story. The film omits all but one of the book’s storylines and concentrates the film on Thornton. Having said that, the most famous scene from the book did make it into the movie where Thornton bets that Buck can pull a half-ton sled for 100 yards. But the film focuses not on the harsh conditions of life encountered by a sled dog but it is a lighthearted romantic adventure film that just so happens to feature a dog as a pet. 

It has some really breathtaking winter scenery and the actors are on point. Gable plays his alpha male well while Jack Oakie provides comedic relief. Loretta Young is the damsel-in-distress, but she’s not always helpless. Gable and Young have some really good chemistry together mostly because it was real. They were noted to be very flirtatious on set but there’s more to it than that: Young and Gable were rumored to have an affair during filming but on the train back to Hollywood from Washington state, Gable entered Young’s compartment and raped her. She then became pregnant with Gable’s child who he constantly denied was his. For many years Young insisted the girl was adopted even though she bore a striking resemblance to her two attractive parents. This led to a lot of problems in her life( of which I won’t go into but it is a very interesting story). Feel free to check out Anne Helen Petersen’s article on this story for the full details. Aside from these off-screen issues, this film does give some good entertainment from an old film even though it’s barely a faithful adaptation of Jack London’s story. It’s worth checking out especially if you’re looking for a classic feel of a movie. 

The only person most Americans will recognize in the 1972 film is Charlton Heston. This version is more faithful to Jack London’s novella but still it focuses more on the human aspect of the story. The cinematography is great and Heston does well in the lead role. If you’re a fan of his, this film is worth checking out. The 1996 film has a slightly longer title The Call of the Wild: Dog of the Yukon and is narrated by Richard Dreyfuss. This film accurately shows this rugged and unsentimental portrait of a dog’s life pushing to survive. However, the film still feels hard to attach to because of the real life dogs. This film is worth checking out as it is the best adaptation in comparison to the prior two films.

Now does this story and meaning track over to the newest rendition? For the most part, yes, it does. Does it show the story’s brutal side? No, but it’s a PG movie. It’s a simpler take on the book but that makes it more appropriate for younger viewers; however, the themes and messages of London’s story are still there. Buck is still learning to survive in the wild and through his CGI eyes, this film is an entertaining family film with themes of courage and perseverance. There are also some really nice set cinematography when Buck becomes a sled dog for Perrault (Sy) and François (Gee) on a mail delivery route.

John Thornton (played by Harrison Ford) in a scene with ‘Buck’ in The Call of the Wild | 20th Century Studios

The Characters

Buck’s arc is similar to the book starting off as this very spoiled dog living in the south on a plantation. He then sees his wild side in an (honestly) very well done symbol. Using Terry Notary for the motion capture of Buck has been criticized because it made Buck more of a cartoon than anything else. Admittedly, it does feel like a Disney cartoon a lot of the time, however that’s not too much of a bad thing. The last three live-action films, that mostly focused on either the humans or the dogs, were not relatable. This was the issue with the most recent version of The Lion King. The non-cartoon look of the CGI made the film absolutely boring—even with the songs, there was nothing relatable to the film. Adding the big, expressive eyes made Buck more relatable, and the use of CGI ensures that no animals were mistreated. A human could follow Buck and care for him. The audience wants him to survive and feels for him when he’s hurt. Along with that, it allows for Buck to be able to interact with other wild animals authentically and viewers do not have to worry about any animal cruelty.

Dogs and animals aside, Ford is perhaps perfect as Thornton. His Thornton is such a relatable character and one can see why he attaches himself to Buck. Their relationship is perhaps the best part of the film.

John Thornton (played by Harrison Ford) in a scene with ‘Buck’ in The Call of the Wild | 20th Century Studios

The Flaws

The biggest flaw about the film is that it feels a little softened compared to the original brutal version of London’s tale. It does feel fairly corny at times such as when Sy’s character says, “We don’t just carry the mail. We carry lives.” Stevens’ Hal is a very corny villain but he is having fun with it. Sometimes the CGI dog does feel a little too cartoonish, but it feels very Disney. There are some scenes that are a little silly, like a dog pulling off a WWE move. In addition, the relationship between Buck and Thornton is the best part; however it takes two-thirds of the movie for them to have a scene together. This is not a big deal because Buck is still relatable but when the film was marked to include more of their relationship, it was definitely less. However, that is more accurate to the story even though a viewer would think that Ford was in the film more than he was, given the marketing.

Overall

Though safe, the film is a fairly enjoyable retelling the tale. The scenery looks really great at times, and Ford is close to perfect as Thornton. Dog lovers will have their heartstrings pulled.  The CGI dog is not too bad because he is relatable and kids will love him. There are enough moments to keep parents entertained while the kids are watching the cute dog do funny things. It is not Pixar or anything but it is a fine film. London’s themes are there to discuss with kids without scaring them. It is a good film to take kids to, but maybe for a matinee.

Now, what did you think of the film? Let me know in the comments section, and hit me up on social media. The Formal Review is on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Recommendation: MAYBE A MATINEE

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