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'The Call of the Wild': Mush to the Theater

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires Film Critic
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In the closing credits of director Chris Sanders's presentation of Jack London's "The Call of the Wild," a wholesome tale of the courage, honor and loving devotion between man and dog that hopefully won't be lost on our adolescent population, there is a curiously inherent contradiction.
 
The lists of folks who toiled in the visual effects, special effects, art, animation and makeup departments to make this rousing adventure yarn in the Yukon look so stunningly real go on and on, affirming that the sorcery of re-creating nature sure takes a lot of manpower.
 
Now, I don't want to be like Sid, the suitor/engineer who ruined every movie for my big sister by pretentiously attempting to explain how everything was done. But then only older moviegoers are apt to be astonished by the virtually seamless process. Conversely, Tyler and Chloe, born to the computer world, would be much more surprised if they learned that canine protagonist Buck, the half-St. Bernard, half-Scottish shepherd mix, was not a 100 percent pedigree, CGI creation.
 
Thus is added a new wrinkle to the whole idea of suspension of disbelief, dictating that we forget, at least for the length of the movie, that Harrison Ford as John Thornton, the humanistic mountain man, has formed an alliance with a big, furry set of well-placed keystrokes. Still, as absorbed as we become in the screenplay Michael Green adapted from London's classic novel, our amazement at the technological feat shares celebrity with the story itself.
 
That said, "The Call of the Wild," arguably penned in reaction to the encroaching artificiality of things and modes resulting from the Industrial Revolution is, in its goodness, simplicity and virtuous paean to the rules of nature, a needed breath of fresh air in today's cynical climate. So, get your healthy serving of self-determination while the getting is good.
 
Similar in its basic theme to Anna Sewell's "Black Beauty," about a horse's fate at the alternately compassionate and cruel hands of numerous owners, our dog Buck starts out on his odyssey as the ungainly pet of a judge and his family in the politely domesticated circumstances of Santa Clara, Calif., circa the Gilded Age. But when Buck inhales an entire buffet of food the judge was planning to serve at a much-anticipated shindig, something's gotta give.
 
And so, through a series of happenstances coinciding with the Klondike Gold Rush, where sled dogs are in high demand, Buck first finds himself among the pack of assorted mongrels who pull the mail sled for Omar Sy's good-natured Perrault and his equally beneficent wife, Françoise, portrayed by Cara Gee. It's there that he learns the ropes, or more specifically, the re dog-sledding, and forms his first full, symbiotic relationship with a human, albeit short-lived.
 
Push comes to shove. A troika of dastardly dandies acquire Buck, thinking he might pull them to riches. Skullduggery ensues. But following a series of life-threatening, action-filled events over snow-covered hill and dale, John Thornton saves and nurses Buck back to health, resulting in the comradeship that articulates the essence and ethos of the saga.
 
But the soon devoted pals aren't out of the woods yet. Hal (Dan Stevens), one of the no-goodniks who survived the catastrophe he previously caused at an unstable frozen lake, has been in hot pursuit, certain that Thornton and Buck know where a fortune in gold awaits discovery.
 
The ruthless brute, who couldn't possibly understand that the relationship between dog and man might have any other purpose, epitomizes one of the story's two ferocious forces, the other being the sheer, overpowering domination by Mother Nature the title identifies.
 
In Buck's case the call comes in the form of a white, female timber wolf who regularly draws him into the wild for fun and frolic, away from the bachelor pad/cabin he shares in sentimentally humorous, "Odd Couple" style with his human buddy. Thornton is hip to the rendezvous, but as the altruist extraordinaire is planning to return to civilization, he signals that Buck's dual citizenship will soon have to be resolved, and that it's his choice and his choice alone.
 
After Muffin, my curmudgeonly but lovable Yorkie, left this mortal world some years ago, I thought that maybe after a reasonable period of grieving we'd get another dog. Of course, this time we'd have the cur trained, offer very little table food and, so we could vacation with reckless abandon, he'd be boarded at a kennel. But time passed and, though on rare occasion at 11 p.m. habit erroneously says it's time to walk Muffin, the elimination of that duty is now guiltily but gratefully enjoyed. I don't think I'll get another dog. 
 
Then again, at certain times, like when seeing a movie that so beautifully extolls the bond between Homo sapiens and man's best friend, I hear my own "Call of the Wild."
 
"The Call of the Wild," rated PG, is a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release directed by Chris Sanders and stars Harrison Ford, Omar Sy and Cara Gee. Running time: 100 minutes

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CARES Act Offers Help for Investors, Small Businesses

Submitted by Edward Jones

As we go through the coronavirus crisis, we are all, first and foremost, concerned about the health of our loved ones and communities. But the economic implications of the virus have also weighed heavily on our minds. 

However, if you're an investor or a business owner, you just got some help from Washington – and it could make a big difference, at least in the short term, for your financial future. Specifically, the passage of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act offers, among other provisions, the following:

* Expanded unemployment benefits: The CARES Act provides $250 billion for extended unemployment insurance, expands eligibility and provides workers with an additional $600 per week for four months, in addition to what state programs pay. The package will also cover the self-employed, independent contractors and "gig economy" workers. Obviously, if your employment has been affected, these benefits can be a lifeline. Furthermore, the benefits could help you avoid liquidating some long-term investments you’ve earmarked for retirement just to meet your daily cash flow needs.

* Direct payments: Individuals will receive a one-time payment of up to $1,200; this amount is reduced for incomes over $75,000 and eliminated altogether at $99,000. Joint filers will receive up to $2,400, which will be reduced for incomes over $150,000 and eliminated at $198,000 for joint filers with no children. Plus, taxpayers with children will receive an extra $500 for each dependent child under the age of 17. If you don't need this money for an immediate need, you might consider putting it into a low-risk, liquid account as part of an emergency fund.

* No penalty on early withdrawals: Typically, you would have to pay a 10 percent penalty on early withdrawals from IRAs, 401(k)s and similar retirement accounts. Under the CARES Act, this penalty will be waived for individuals who qualify for COVID-19 relief and/or in plans that allow COVID-19 distributions. Withdrawals will still be taxable, but the taxes can be spread out over three years. Still, you might want to avoid taking early withdrawals, as you’ll want to keep your retirement accounts intact as long as possible.

* Suspension of required withdrawals: Once you turn 72, you will be required to take withdrawals from your traditional IRA and 401(k). The CARES Act waives these required minimum distributions for 2020. If you're in this age group, but you don't need the money, you can let your retirement accounts continue growing on a tax-deferred basis.

* Increase of retirement plan loan limit: Retirement plan investors who qualify for COVID-19 relief can now borrow up to $100,000 from their accounts, up from $50,000, provided their plan allows loans. We recommend that you explore other options, such as the direct payments, to bridge the gap on current expenses and if you choose to take a plan loan work with your financial adviser to develop strategies to pay back these funds over time to reduce any long-term impact to your retirement goals.

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