Tag Archives: dead dog alert

The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards

Seven stories. Self-contained, based on short stories from Robert Boswell’s collection. They have some commonalities, I suppose: toeing the line between fantasy and reality, or the gray area between memory and what really happened. Inventing shit when we’re young and have no experience. Blurring reality when we’re old and looking back. Life is bittersweet. We’re all bastards sometimes. It just depends on the day.

Conrad (James Franco) identifies his father’s dead body and is comforted by his death, comforted by the fact that he wasn’t the only one his father wanted to kill.

Paul (Jim Parrack) goes home to visit his father, whom he barely recognizes. Dementia has taken him further and further away from the man he used to be. All that seems to be left is his meanness, and even knowing it’s the product of disease doesn’t quite mitigate it. It cuts particularly close to home when it involves Paul’s ex wife (Natalie Portman) and the kid who looks disturbingly just like him.

Monica (Kristen Wiig) is a single mother who works as a maid. She gets through the day by fantasizing about using her wealthy clients’ lives as inspiration for the writing that will make her rich and famous one day.

A huge cast, including Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Thomas Mann, Matthew Modine, Rico Rodriguez, Tony Cox, Jimmy Kimmel, and Keir Gilchrist assembles to pull this thing together, along with more than 7 writers and more than 7 directors. The stories are not uniformly good, or uniformly  memorable, and though I enjoyed some, I don’t think they really mean much as a whole.

 

 

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SXSW: Isle of Dogs

Read the title out loud and kind of quick, and it’s hardly distinguishable from “I love dogs” but the conflict in the film actually comes from not loving them enough. A city in Japan has a dog-hating mayor who selfishly spreads lies and rhetoric about the dog flu, and gets and\or manufactures enough support that he succeeds in banishing all dogs to Trash Island.

As most of you know (because my bursting heart can’t shut up about it), I’m lucky enough to share my life and home with four of the sweetest doggies in the world. I Isle of Dogs 1 via Fox Searchlight Headersometimes wonder if I prefer dogs to people, and I certainly do prefer my dogs to most people. I think dogs are so much better than we deserve. They are 100% heart. So it’s hard for me to imagine a bunch of dog owners so willing to sentence their dogs to a terrible, lonely, miserable life and death. Of the thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of dogs sent to live and die on Trash Island, only one is lucky enough to have an owner come looking for him – a 12 year old boy named Atari. When Atari becomes stranded on the island, a scruffy pack of dogs generously decides to help him find his beloved Spots. Duke (Jeff Goldblum), King (Bob Balaban), Rex (Ed Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), and even the reluctant Chief (Bryan Cranston) band together to reunite boy and dog on a journey that you  might just say belongs in a Wes Anderson movie.

And it is a Wes Anderson movie, horray! So of course it’s got some truly absorbing attention to detail, a sweet soundtrack, and a poignancy verging on nostalgia. Like Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs is beautifully rendered in stop-motion animation. Each dog puppet is a thing of beauty, with fur (made of alpaca hair, apparently) so pettable and little noses that you’re sure are moist to the touch. Their expressive eyes bore into you, and as Bob Balaban so eloquently put it during the Q&A following the film, it could have been a silent film and still been just as affecting.

As saturated as they are aesthetically, some may argue that Wes Anderson movies are ultimately style over substance. Isle of Dogs has some pretty obvious themes about mass hysteria and maybe even fake news, but for me the takeaway is simply to love better – dare I say, more like a dog, fully, and with devotion.

Wonder

Auggie is a very special little boy. Born with a genetic condition called Treacher Collins syndrome, Auggie’s facial deformities are the least threatening of the complications but they’re what make him look so different. He’s most comfortable when he’s wearing an astronaut helmet that keep prying eyes and hurtful comments at bay. For the first ten years of his life he’s had countless surgeries and has been schooled at home, but he’s about to start middle school for real, and a classroom of students is more daunting to him (and his mom) than any operating room.

Wonder is based on the wonderful YA novel by R.J. Palacio, which you should, should, should definitely, definitely read. But happily, this is a rare case where the movie does MV5BMTIwOTUwNTEtYzMwNS00N2YxLTg0ZWYtNzM0YzVjOWYwZWM5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjg5NDY3Mw@@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_the book justice. And even happilier, the movie doesn’t suck, period, which was a major concern of mine. It seemed far too easy to just let it coast on its sentimentality. But while director Stephen Chbosky doesn’t have a lengthy track record to ease my worrisome nature, he does have one credit under his belt that’s all I really needed to hear: he adapted and directed The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which he’d also penned.

Wonder is a much different beast, however. First, it necessarily involves casting the perfect but very young star. A bad child actor in a lead role will ruin the whole thing, and in this case you have to find someone who can convey a whole range of complicated emotions from underneath a mask of scars. Chbosky went with Jacob Tremblay who’s already proven his chops with the most trying and powerful of roles in Room; Chbosky calls him “a once-in-a-generation talent” and I think he may be right. But we can’t discount the fact that Chbosky surrounds Tremblay with talent.

The secret to Wonder’s success, both in novel and in film, is that yes, it tells the story from the perspective of a sweet and brave 10 year old boy who’s been through hell and is still going through it. BUT it also shares the stories of the people around him. His mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) has had to pause life itself in order to become his warrior. His father Nate (Owen Wilson) copes with humour and cries by himself. His big sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) feels like a mere planet revolving around Auggie, the sun. A disease like Auggie’s is a family affair, energy-stealing, all-encompassing, leaving no one unaffected. And no one likes to complain about that because it seems petty in the face of something life-threatening, but it’s true and Palacio’s book as well as Chbosky’s film really add legitimacy to a family suffering as a unit. Even Auggie’s only friend is untouched – being his friend is a social sacrifice most 10 year olds won’t be strong enough to make. Another formidable young actor, Suburbicon‘s Noah Jupe, lands and aces this role.

Wonder is not about the suffering though; that would be too easy. It’s about overcoming that suffering, in ways that are clunky and ungraceful and sometimes accidental. That’s why Auggie’s family seems so real, and why so many real families with sick kids can relate to the material. It’s emotionally raw stuff and you may find that it touches a nerve. But it’s got a takeaway message of positivity that’s irresistible, and will help justify the numerous soggy kleenexes in your lap.

A Dog’s Purpose

This is the movie I promised myself  I would never see. The trailer itself made it crystal clear: this is the story of one dog who keeps coming back to life as different breeds with different owners. And in order for a dog to be reborn – you guessed it – he has to die. A lot. And it’s never, ever not sad. But the film makes no bones about death not being the worst fate for dogs – and THAT was the worst part. The part when he didn’t die, but lived a miserable life.

27-dog-purpose.w710.h473Anyway, as if a dog’s repeated death wasn’t enough to deter me, there was some controversy prior to the film’s release when a video of one of the actor dogs revealed it looking completely terrified during a stunt. Abuse was alleged, which led people to boycott the film. Not that it mattered; A Dog’s Purpose is not terribly good. It was never going to win the box office. It preys on your heartstrings. The director is so shamelessly over-sentimental that I felt like a dog on a leash being yanked along against my will.

If you’ve been paying attention here, you may have noticed that Sean and I are dog lovers, or that I am a dog lover and Sean never really stood a chance. I already had Herbie when I met Sean, and Sean had to win his approval in order to stick around. Then we got Gertie so that Herbie would always have a friend. And then we adopted Fudgie on the day we bought our house. And Bronx was given to me as a post-surgery recovery gift. So that’s 4 – the maximum amount of animals we can have on our property without legally declaring ourselves a farm. They keep my life full and happy. There’s no better way to feel like a million bucks: simply leave home and return 10 minutes later. Tails will wag, joyous barks will sound, big sloppy kisses will greet you at the door.

While watching the movie, Sean had an epiphany: what if the only god that exists is the god of dogs. And this world belongs to the dogs. And we’re just here to act as their humble servants. And OUR purpose is to create better and better domestic situations for them. If that’s the case, dogs are benevolent masters, friendly and forgiving. Me? Not so much. This is one movie that deserved to be put down, but since it wasn’t, I caution you to tell it it’s a bad boy, a very bad boy, now maybe hit it in the nose with a rolled up newspaper and tell it to go lie down in its bed. And go hug a real dog instead.

Wiener Dog

I love dogs. I have 4 dogs and I like them more than I like most people. They’re just more genuine, you know? You always know where you stand with a dog. I have 2 shih-tzus, 1 yorkie, and 1 beautiful little mutt. No wiener dogs, but not because I don’t like them. It’s because Sean thinks it’s cruel to breed a dog to be disabled. And he’s right; the short legs and long back of a Dachshund causes them to suffer from ruptured vertebral discs on top of bowed legs and elbow dislocation. Seeing my dogs joyfully running around outside, I would be heartbroken to have one little dog who just couldn’t join in.

Wiener-Dog is a movie ostensibly about a super cute Dachshund who gets homepage_wiener-dog-2016-2passed from one weird owner to another. The film is more like 4 shorts that only have a dog in common. I didn’t even believe that it was the same wiener dog in all 4 vignettes. The first two are clearly linked, the last 2 not so much. The shorts also become increasingly non-entertaining. I thought the first one was the strongest: a father picks up a puppy for his young son, who has recently survived cancer. The dog sparks many serious conversations between mother (Julie Delpy) and son – motherhood, personality, free will, death. But all of the conversations are straight out of a what-not-to-say handbook, with Delpy literally telling her son that her childhood dog Croissant was raped by a dog with AIDS named Mohammed. The satire is delicious. There’s an explosion of joy on the screen as a boy and his dog play together, but this outburst of happiness is quickly punished, and the dog changes hands.

This is how it is with director Todd Solondz. He doesn’t care about your wiener-dog-film-trailer-stillcomfort, he’s not here to cushion the blow. And he’s sure as hell not here to give you a happy ending, so keep that in mind. Next up for Wiener Dog, she gets adopted by a character from another Todd Solondz movie, Welcome to the Dollhouse. Dawn is all grown up now, and played with Greta Gerwig. She runs into childhood…acquaintance (?) Brandon (Kieran Culkin) in a 7-11, and suddenly Wiener Dog’s on a road trip through some really heavy issues. She also meets disgruntled professor Danny DeVito and bitter old hag Ellen Burstyn. Through it all, Solondz’s camera is unflinching, perversely lingering over the gross and unbearable.

Solondz’s rage is evident in spades, from the meta film school vignette to the open mocking of the audience’s queasiness with a tongue-in-cheek intermission (and a great song – The Ballad of the Wiener-Dog). Solondz is all about finding humour in the darkness, and Wiener-Dog is an innocent bystander to all kinds of human stupidity. The film drips with cynicism. It was too much for Sean. And while I can’t really profess to enjoying it, I deeply appreciated the fuckedupness of it.

La guerre des tuques

You likely know the Assholes are proud Canadians but you may know not know that I (Jay) am French-Canadian. I didn’t grow up in Québec (the traditionally french-speaking province), but in a small eastern Ontario town that borders it. I grew up speaking both languages but for the first ten years of my life, I was educated solely en français . It was a little school, about 100 kids covering grades from la maternelle (pre-kindergarten or jk) to la huitième année, or grade eight. When the temperatures dipped below -20 into frostbite snowtime_stillterritory, the whole school would assemble into our tiny gym, and one of the few movies screened for us on a 24-inch TV was La guerre des tuques. It was a movie about a bunch of kids who wage an all-out snowball fight in the vicinity of a huge snow fort during their winter break. La guerre des tuques literally translates to war of the tuques, but the English version was called The Dog Who Stopped The War.

This year, a new, animated version of the movie was released so a new generation could appreciate it. I was excited to revisit my childhood. Matt and Sean, dumb anglos, didn’t know it from a baseball cap battle, so they were in for a treat. It’s screening this week as part of Ottawa’s International Animation Festival, conveniently in English and everything (this time the English title is Snowtime!)

Being animated, they can take things a little further than a live-action movie made in the 80s could. The fort is several stories high, with CCTV, a secret railroad, and constantly simmering hot chocolate (though they draw the tech line at telephones: the old tin can method is still used, despite the fact that kids today rarely see a landline with a cord). It’s still got all the things kids look for in a fun movie: fart jokes, slightly crude humour, references to girls being icky and boys being stinky. It’s also quintessentially Canadian: snowtime-still-1yes there are hockey sticks, but also lacrosse sticks and curling brooms.

There’s a lot of good fun to be had and despite it being a “war”, most of it pretty benign. However, the end forcibly inserts a teachable moment and a dog must make the, ahem, ultimate sacrifice. It doesn’t quite fit and I wish it went differently.

Sandra Oh makes her second appearance as a voice actor in this festival (she was in Window Horses as well); this time she plays 4-eyed Frankie, and despite it being a bigger stretch, I’d say she does it more seamlessly this time around. And because this is a shamelessly Canadian production, it wouldn’t be complete without a soundtrack featuring Walk Off The Earth, Simple Plan, and Celine Dion. Is this a great movie? No, it’s not. But I can see kids liking it. And when you have winters as harsh as ours, you need entertainment aimed specifically at getting us through it.