Monday, January 28, 2019

Three Movie Reviews

A Dog's Way Home – I think this is the third movie in the series that started with A Dog's Purpose, which I didn't see, although I read the book by W. Bruce Cameron that it was based on. Remembering the original book as a sentimental tear-jerker that would appeal to dog lovers, I dragged my parents to see this movie during a weekend visit with them. I think we all pretty much enjoyed it. This movie follows the progress of a dog named Bella (voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard) who is sent away to stay with her owners' relatives while they look for a different place to live when she is falsely accused of being a pit bull – part of a corrupt campaign of retaliation against them by a developer they crossed and the animal control officers in his pocket. It also stars Ashley Judd as the mother of the college boy who belongs to Bella, and whom she tries to find again in a multi-year journey through the wilds of the Rockies. Along the way, she is mistaken for one guy's dog when she helps his actual dog dig him out after an avalanche buries him in snow; she runs with the dogs that beg for food at the back doors of restaurants, only to realize that each of her packmates has a human family to go home to; she almost gets adopted by a couple of nice guys, but he just isn't Lucas; she almost dies of thirst when a hobo chains her up and then kicks the bucket; she befriends a mountain lion cub and almost chooses to become its mom; and everything finally comes together in a stand-off at a veterans' home against a couple of improbably wicked dogcatchers.

Not a subtle movie, this. It has some nice scenery and good human and canine performances, though some of the animal business seems to have been handled with CGI. The connection between Bella and her boy Lucas is adorable. If I was expecting something quite as poignant as A Dog's Purpose, I was disappointed. But I don't recall feeling disappointed. Visually appealing, with a nice journey story-line for the hero dog and a hard-won happy ending, it left me nothing to complain about. Three things that made it for me: (1) The scene in which the avalanche guy rejects not only Bella, but his own dog after they both saved his life. Ouch. Sad as it is, a lot of the pathos in this scene is sold by dog body language. (2) The recurring theme of Bella being tempted to stay and become part of a family where she's at – both with another dog and with a wild cat. (3) Grizzled Wes Studi's resolution of the standoff with the gung-ho dogcatcher.

The Kid Who Would Be King - Louis Ashbourne Serkis, a son of Andy "Gollum" Serkis, headlines this film about a present-day London teen who comes to realize that he is destined to draw Excalibur from the stone and become the "future" part of the Once and Future King. Alex, not Arthur, is his name, and among his central circle of knights are a pudding of a boy named Bedders (Sir Bedivere, anyone), a girl named Kaye (only the girl part is a surprise) and a handsome bully named Lance (like, Lancelot, right?). The latter two are really sketchy converts to the cause, however. Together with a rather flamboyant teenage avitar of Merlin (dude lives backward in time, you know), who sometimes transforms into Patrick Stewart, they travel all the way to Tintagel in Cornwall to learn stuff Alex would rather not know. For example, his book of Arthurian legends, the obsession of his childhood, was not a gift from his mysterious, missing dad but from his mum, who wanted to protect him from knowing that his dad didn't spare a thought for him. In spite of disappointments along the way, however, Alex leads his sidekicks on a pretty successful quest, and they make it back to their school in time to head off an attack by Morgana and the forces of evil.

That's enough to go on with. Three things that made this movie for me: (1) The whole "defending the school" sequence, in which they somehow train the entire student body in swordplay in a couple of hours, while at the same time rigging the gym with anti-demon booby traps. (2) Alex belatedly explains everything to his mum, then proves it's all true by summoning the lady of the lake – in the bathtub. (3) The recipe for Merlin's power-restoring tonic. However, I must add one thing that somewhat un-made this movie for me: All that hand-jive stuff young Merlin does, way too many times during the movie, to execute spells. It really got irritating.

The Mule - Just when you think you can write off Clint Eastwood as a piece of film history, the nearly 90-year-old actor/director pulls this off. Supposedly based on a piece of journalism about an elderly man who smuggled Mexican cartel drugs under the noses of law enforcement before finally surrendering himself to the authorities, the movie is a grim, emotionally stifling spectacle from one end to the other. Clint plays a day lily enthusiast whose obsession has caused him to become estranged from his wife (Dianne Wiest) and their daughter (Clint's real-life daughter Alison Eastwood). Hoping to retrieve the good graces of his family by contributing to his granddaughter's wedding, he responds to a job offer that leads him to become a drug mule, driving a pickup truck to and fro across the country and not asking questions about who takes the drugs out and puts money in while the truck is parked overnight. At first things are going great. He buys a new truck, saves his day lily farm, gets his VFW local remodeled, impresses the fam. But all the while, he gets in deeper and deeper, becoming a trusted favorite of the cartel chief – just in time for a bloody change of management, which puts the old guy on the wrong side of the hombres in power. Meantime, the feds have a confidential informant, with whose help they are slowly closing in; and then Clint goes AWOL in the middle of a drug run to rush to his wife's bedside and hold her hand while she dies, which puts him rather between a rock and a hard place. His survival becomes the matter of supreme suspense, leading to something like a modern-day version of the bittersweet ending of a classic western, where the tough guy ends up all alone.

My dad and I had an argument after seeing this movie. There was a scene where the cartel guys caught up to Clint and were about to kill him, but when they realized why he had gone AWOL they questioned their orders and considered maybe just roughing him up, to teach him a lesson. Clint is all, "I'm ready to take my medicine." Then the scene cuts to him driving down the road with a truckload of drugs and getting caught by the law. Asked how he came to look so badly beaten, he says something like, "I only got what I deserved." I took this at face value: the cartel guys took pity on him and only gave him some bruises and scrapes, then let him continue on his run. My dad, however, is positive that "between the lines," Clint killed the cartel guys and that later, when he pleads guilty on all charges, the murder charges are due to their deaths. I just assumed the murder charges had to do with the court throwing everything at him because he was the only member of the cartel they had to charge with stuff; and if anyone dies in connection with a felony you're committing, you get charged as if you killed them. So, on at least this point, the film is open to multiple interpretations.

Also co-starring in the movie are Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Andy Garcia, Richard Herd and Loren Dean. Three scenes that made it for me: (1) The one in which Earl's (Clint E.) controller, who has gradually warmed to him, is basically forced to tell him they're not friends anymore in front of the new thugs who run the show. Perhaps meaningfully, they never see each other again. It puts salt on a previous scene in which Earl tells the young guy he should get out of the business and find something else that he loves to do. Too late for him, right? (2) The scene in which Clint bamboozles a Texas state trooper into leaving without interfering any further, after he stops him along with the two cartel guys tailing him and starts to give them a hard time. For a minute, you're sure the two Mexican guys are going to waste the trooper. They're pretty sure, too. (3) Clint sings at the wheel of his truck, not caring what the cartel guys who have him bugged think about it. I love the scene in which they start to sing along with him.

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