(March 18)  Arthur the King, with actor Mark Wahlberg and a mangy dog named Arthur leading an extreme-sports team across 400 miles of jungle, is the best movie I’ve seen in years. Graded on the curve of how greatly it exceeds the schlock Hollywood has extruded this decade, it ranks among history’s most exceptional films.

I mean this superlative in the sense that whereas a pool of clear, fresh water in the Adirondacks is lovely, a same-sized pool of clear, fresh water in the Sahara can be the most glorious godsend in a traveler’s whole life. With exceedingly rare oases, recent Hollywood has been a storytelling desert….

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[Arthur the King] features good, old-fashioned storytelling with enough of a backstory and just enough introduction of characters, a straightforward plot, some real excitement, relatable emotions, ethical dilemmas, an honest-to-goodness climax, and even what has become the rarest of Hollywood features, an actual denouement. It adheres closely enough to a true story to carry significant emotional resonance, but it is fictionalized enough for dramatic purposes so as amply to fulfill a movie’s entertainment mission.

The main storyline is simple: Wahlberg plays Michael Light (based on a real-life Swede named Mikael Lindnord), an “adventure racer” with plenty of impressively good results to his name but no big victories. He wants to ditch his day job for one more shot at glory, this time leading a four-person team in brutal conditions in the Dominican Republic (Lindnord’s real race was in Ecuador). But one teammate he recruits has a bad knee, another may have gotten soft by focusing on social media stardom, and another carries the burden of a major family challenge.

At an early-race checkpoint, Light feeds some meatballs to a stray mutt, and amazingly, the mutt shows up again more than 100 jungle miles later, determined to keep pace with what may be the only creatures who ever, ever showed him kindness. From there, the strong-willed pooch, suffering from foul-smelling, worm-filled abscesses, becomes not a burden but a valued team member….  [The full column is at this link.]


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