Dog’s Movie House: “Call Of The Wild,” “The Invisible Man” Solid Entertainment

Remakes and reboots are a tricky business. Most of them fail for one of two reasons. Number one: the new film adheres so slavishly to the source material that one wonders why the new film was made in the first place. Number two: the reboot or remake is a reboot or remake in name only and, again, one wonders why the new film was made in the first place. Tonight we have two such films that have successfully towed the line between originality and homage.

Let’s start with last week’s surprise hit “The Call Of The Wild.” Based on Jack London’s classic novel, this story has been made into a film on multiple occasions, most notably starring Clark Gable and Loretta Young in 1935. This new version suffers early from what appears to be an overuse of CGI, but as the film rolls on the powerful performances and classic story take over for a truly winning cinematic experience.

The story involves a pampered dog named Buck, a massive beast who one night is kidnapped by thieves and sold as a sled dog in Alaska. Several adventures and misadventures later, he falls into a powerful relationship with a man named John Thorton (a brilliant Harrison Ford) who is trying to get away from troubles of his own. Together they venture into the great unknown wilderness of the Yukon, taking on adversaries both natural and human, to answer some of life’s most difficult questions.

Like I said before, director Chris Sanders, a veteran animation director, decides to go the CGI route with all of the animals. Most of them look good, but Buck (mo-capped by Terry Notary) takes a while to get used to. His movements are too slick and his face too expressive at first, but by the time the movie rolls into Alaska, you become accustomed to the animation and the story takes over.

Speaking of the story, “The Call Of The Wild” follows the framework of the novel while adding to the stakes. Avalanches, wolves, bears, and idiotic rich wannabe explorers who have no problem abusing a sled team all provide meaty obstacles for Buck. Despite the rousing performances of Omar Sy and Cara Gee as the compassionate but tough mail carriers who mentor Buck through his early days as a sled dog, the opening half of the movie feels like a video game.

This changes when Harrison Ford enters the picture. The relationship between Thorton and Buck is the primary attraction of the movie and Ford and Notary deliver fabulous performances, so much so that I should remind you to bring a few tissues for the back half of the picture. By the end you almost buy Buck as a real dog. . .almost! 4 Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer!

Next we have “The Invisible Man” written and directed by Leigh Whannel, the co-creator of the “Saw” franchise and writer/director of last years sci-fi sleeper “Upgrade” In this tale, Whannel updates H.G. Wells classic tale for the modern age while remaining true to the terrifying elements of the original story.

In this iteration, we are introduced to Cecilla Kass (the excellent Elizabeth Moss) a woman who barely escapes the clutches of her abusive ex Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Two weeks later, she finds out that Adrian has taken his own life and bequeathed her five million dollars. Things appear normal until Cecilla notices an invisible presence that seems to be stalking her and cutting her off from friends and loved ones. Is Adrian really dead or is there something more sinister at work here? If you’ve watched the previews you know that answer to that question, but you have to watch the film to get the whole story.

And what a story it is! Whannel’s script takes the invisible concept and concocts a corker of a tale about toxic relationships, mental illness, and no small amount of what I consider female empowerment. All of this is sold with terrific intensity by Elizabeth Moss, a young actress most of you might recognize as the lead in Hulu’s “A Handmaid’s Tale.” Her expressive eyes and haunted voice puts you right in her shoes as she is nearly broken by her invisible ex. You feel her frustration as his plan isolates from her loved ones, the only true explanation threatening to make her seem crazier and more traumatized than she already is.

Whanell also gets great supporting work form Aldis Hodge and Storm Reid as the father/daughter combo who take her in, as well as Harriet Dyer as Cecilla’s estranged sister and Michael Dorman as Adrian’s sleazy brother Tom. As for Jackson-Cohen, he doesn’t have a great deal to do until the finale, but when he gets his chance to shine as the abusive control freak Adrian, he knocks it out of the park.

To give you an idea of how effective “The Invisible Man” is as a film, I can tell you that the special effects are good, but not great, but they don’t need to be. Whannel directs the stalking scenes with a sense of suspense that really works. You don’t need to see anything to know Adrian is lurking about. When the action set pieces to come into play they are directed with enough energy to more than carry the day. The film also comes with a couple of nice twists and an ending the film nails better than a Simone Biles dismount. After so many crappy horror films to start the year, “The Invisible Man” as a breath of fresh air! 4 1/2 Out of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer! So Sayeth The Kendog!

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