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One More February Movies Post

This tall tale directed by Chris Sanders is the latest of many versions ostensibly inspired by the 1903 Jack London novel.  The main character is a large canine named “Buck”, apparently some kind of splotchy brown-and-white St. Bernard/Shepherd cross.  Actually our furry hero is created through computer-generated technology and motion capture (by Terry Notary) as are the other critters (husky sled dogs, wolves, a bear …)  Buck goes from being a one-dog wrecking crew to being dog-napped and traded for duties from Alaska to Yukon during the gold rush.  His first new owners are dog-friendly—an unlikely pairing of a supposedly francophone black man “Perreault” and vaguely Inuit-looking woman “Fran├žoise” doing a mail route by sled—though Buck has to overcome their jealous dogteam alpha male named “Spitz”.  Then the route gets cancelled and Buck is acquired by a greedy gold-seeker (Dan Stevens) who turns evil pursuer after Buck is saved by grieving, graying, geriatric John Thornton (Harrison Ford looking even shaggier than Buck) who’s been serving as story narrator and now takes over as good-hearted owner. Cue more rescues, adventures, and incidents until Buck heeds the “call” with a white wolf mate.  Unfortunately the ersatz realism produced by laboured visual effects (so many creators listed in the closing credits) doesn’t make the scenario or settings seem less artificial.  I can’t say it better than Fionualla Halligan of Screen Daily: “it isn’t live action, it isn’t fish, fowl, or dog and somewhere in between it falls off its sled.” C-    
Our Time Machine (China/U.S. 2019
These days most mentions of China are viral.  But this unusual award-winning documentary from directors S. Leo Chang and Yang Sun conjures some inspiring and evocative artistic visions within the telling of an affectionate family story.   The creative force is Maleonn, a bald, bearded Chinese man in his 40s, a master designer and maker of ingenious life-size puppets who leads a devoted team and develops a theatrical project “Papa’s Time Machine” to pay tribute to his father Ma Ke who directed over 80 shows for the Shanghai Chinese Opera Theatre but is now suffering from dementia.  (Like many artists, Maleonn’s parents had suffered under Mao’s “cultural revolution”.)  Maleonn conceives his performance piece as a way to recapture and record memories drawn from autobiographical father-son experience.  Although a trip to New York doesn’t generate new funding and there are other challenges, the finished play—a wonder of lifelike puppetry as well as a mechanical marvel—does have a limited run in Shanghai. The story of its conception open with a quote from H.G.Wells: “We all have time machines, don’t we? Those that take us back are memories …And those that carry us forward, are dreams.” After mounting his time machine play we see Maleonn becoming a father himself and reflecting on how the circle of life must continue.  It’s both moving and visually enchanting. A


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April 24, 2019 was the official launch of The Best of Screenings and Meanings: A Journey Through Film at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Saskatoon, SK