The Call of the Wild
Wide releases remain sparse, as the heavy box office hitters await the warmer weather. Original Saw writer Leigh Whannell follows up 2018’s excellent, underseen take on The Terminator, Upgrade; with an update of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man starring Elisabeth Moss. Another version of that other Jane Austen novel…no the other other one, Emma, stars The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy. My Hero Academia, a popular franchise about a superhero high school gets a second animated feature in My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising. Ciné just debuted two captivating, low-profile, new films, The Lodge and The Assistant. (Read on for more about both.) At Flicker on Feb. 26, True Crime Theater presents Heavenly Creatures, Peter Jackson’s highly imaginative account of the obsessive relationship that leads two teenaged girls to murder one of their mothers; in case you did not know, the girl portrayed by Kate Winslet is popular mystery writer Anne Perry. The Georgia Museum of Art’s Black History Month Film Series concludes with Selma on Feb. 27. Women’s History Month kicks off with Iron Jawed Angels at the Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries on Mar. 2. The weekend’s Tate Movies are the fresher-than-anticipated Zombieland: Double Tap and what I think is the first Athens screening of the critically acclaimed Waves from Feb. 28 through Mar. 1. Beechwood’s Flashback Cinema offers one last chance to see The Godfather on the big screen on Feb. 26, before Cary Grant’s iconic run from a crop-duster in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest on Mar. 1.
THE CALL OF THE WILD (PG) Happily, Harrison Ford headlines the entertaining new adaptation of Jack London’s classic yarn, because the CGI dogs, namely Buck, are digitally obvious eyesores. I cannot recall a frame Buck shares with any human costar where the fake animal looked like present. Understandably, digital dogs free up storytelling options for the filmmakers. No pesky PETA complaints or obstinate animals to deal with. The only limit is what How to Train Your Dragon director Chris Sanders can convince the irascible Ford to do. The resulting product is naturally gorgeous, when it does not resemble the cutscenes from a video game or the movie portion of a theme park ride. (Maybe Disney can reuse the footage for a Call of the Wild sled simulator.) I get the urge to have Ford narrate the film (you have Harrison Ford, so why not use him?), but narratively it is a no-go for several reasons, some fairly spoiler-ish. Still, watching the appealingly grouchy 77-year-old play fetch with a digital dog may be one of the more uplifting movie moments of 2019. Who else has more experience interacting with fake, furry costars than Han Solo himself?
THE LODGE (R) Probably the coldest movie of 2019, The Lodge strands two kids (It’s Jaeden Lieberher and Lia McHugh), at a cabin during Christmas with their dad’s new girlfriend, Grace (Riley Keough). Sound like the logline for a holiday laugh fest? What if I told you Grace is the sole survivor of a religious cult massacre perpetrated by her father? And then I added the bit about how the kids have recently lost their mother (Alicia Silverstone). Also, their dad is Richard Armitage, who is just like Hugh Jackman minus any of the warmth or charm. Following up Goodnight Mommy with another maternal horror movie, might make one think directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala have mommy issues. Fortunately, they also know how to stage scenes both literally and atmospherically chilly. Eventually, horror films like The Lodge face a conundrum when the time comes for resolution. Go obvious or outrageous; real or supernatural? So many effective pieces—cult backstory, tangible dread, delicate performances, edgy sound design—may go to waste on audience members left personally dissatisfied by the filmmakers’ choices.
THE ASSISTANT (R) Whatever you do, don’t go into The Assistant thinking thriller, as the trailer and movie poster allege. The sadly relevant film is a soul-crushing examination of the moviemaking business from the viewpoint of the assistant to a major producer like Harvey Weinstein. Over the course of one day, just a little over a month into her tenure, Northwestern grad Jane (Julia Garner) pretty much confirms her worst suspicions of her abusive, heard-but-never-seen boss. The HR scene where Jane attempts to connect the dots for another powerful man behind a desk (played with unnerving authenticity by Matthew Macfadyen as a blue-eyed robot programmed to act compassionate) is its own kind of abuse. Written and directed by Kitty Green (the intriguing documentary Casting JonBenet), The Assistant complicates the entertainment experience of watching a movie: By buying a ticket am I complicit in the predatory abuse the industry glosses over with digital effects, megawatt charisma and self-congratulatory awards shows?