Set in the 1890s, the film centers on Buck, a large St. Bernard-Scotch Collie mix, who has the run of his owner’s mansion in Santa Clara, California. The excitement for the Yukon gold rush is in full steam. The way to get to the Yukon gold fields is through Skagway, Alaska.
One day, Buck is stolen and sold to a cruel man who collects dogs to sell to prospectors going north. Buck cowers when the man beats him with a club, though he doesn’t lose his faith in humanity. Buck’s new owner, the kind Perrault (Omar Sy), runs a dogsled mail service from Alaska to Dawson along the Yukon River. Perrault likes Buck because of his size and strength but places him toward the back because he is untrained.
When a scruffy older man named John Thornton (Harrison Ford) drops his harmonica in the snow, Buck picks it up for him. Thornton learns the dog’s name and thanks him before he moves on. After several mail trips, Perrault receives word that he’s lost his job and must sell the team. Soon Buck falls in with Thornton, a loner who has left his family behind after the death of his son. Thornton and Buck decide to go farther north, not for gold, but for adventure.
By my calculation, this CGI-enriched adaptation of Jack London’s 1903 novella is the fifth film version. As Buck endures captivity and mistreatment, he loses his carefree nature and matures into a leader. Little by little, he embraces his primitive nature, especially when he becomes friendly with a pack of timber wolves. I didn’t realize Buck and just about everything else in the film was computer generated until halfway through. I was relieved, because Buck and the other dogs are mistreated terribly.
Harrison Ford is perfect as the gruff companion to Buck, who is the star of this show. Care for the environment and forgoing greed are themes explored in the film, but another theme that stood out for me is communication. When the sled brings mail to people starved for word from home, there is great rejoicing that brings people together. The film may be named The Call of the Wild, but it’s really a call to community.
A-2, PG • Peril, animal cruelty, fighting.
Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund) is an orphan raised by Tom (Tom Wilkinson) and Hazel (Tess Harper), members of the KKK, in a small South Carolina town. Mike and Clint (Austin Hébert) work as repo men during the day. In their off hours, they join Tom and Hazel in remodeling an old theater into the Redneck Shop and KKK Museum. When Rev. Kennedy (Forest Whitaker) and his congregation protest the museum, Tom threatens them. To ensure that the property will remain in the hands of a committed KKK member, Tom deeds it to Mike as long as Tom can run the museum for life.
When Mike visits the trailer home of Judy (Andrea Riseborough) to repossess her television, they become friends. Over time, they fall in love and, with her son, move in with Tom and Hazel. Judy begins to show Mike another way than that of the Klan. Mike decides to sign over the deed to the Redneck Shop and KKK Museum building to Rev. Kennedy. When word gets around, Mike, Judy, and her son find themselves homeless. Rev. Kennedy, to the surprise and resistance of his family, takes them to dinner and gives them shelter in his home. Now Mike must find a way to leave the KKK once and for all.
Directed and written by Andrew Heckler, Burden, which is inspired by true events, tells a difficult story with simplicity and courage. The acting is understated by all. Hedlund is believable as the army veteran who is trying to find himself but stuck in poverty. Wilkinson and Whitaker are formidable: One is motivated by hate, while the other is motivated by the Gospels.
Not yet rated, R • Racism, violence, language.
It is the late 1970s in rural Georgia. Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace) lives with her widowed father, Ramsey (Jim Gaffigan), and is watched over by Miss Rayleen (Viola Davis), his underpaid and long-suffering secretary. Christmas, and some of her fellow misfits at school, are at odds with the obnoxious Birdie Scouts, led by the snobbish principal, Miss Massey (Allison Janey).
Christmas, who has an interest in NASA’s space program, is excited to learn that a recording of human voices is being made for the Voyager spacecraft to take into space. A contest is held to decide whose voice will be on the record. She wants to win so that her mother will hear her and know she loves her.
Because only Birdie Scouts can be in the competition, Miss Rayleen is recruited to be the leader of a misfit troop of kids, which includes Christmas. They are given the number zero because Miss Massey says all the other numbers are taken.
Troop Zero captures the community nature of scouting as well as the excitement of NASA’s space program at that time. Christmas, who epitomizes hope, points out to the nasty Miss Massey that zero doesn’t mean nothing—it means infinity. This is a touching film about inclusivity, children’s need for adult supervision and interaction, forgiveness, and kindness. It is currently available for streaming on Amazon.
Not yet rated, PG • Bullying, fighting.