Stalker (Tarkovsky 1979) ⭐✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩

1 out of 10 for this awful film.dog-stalker-620x350

I only went to see it because Jason Wyngarde told it me it contained all the things I like in films: trains, dogs and monkeys. He told me that by putting all three together in one film, Tarkovsky transcended genre.

Jason Wyngarde is a fool.

The film earns its one star out of ten for the dog. He is pretty cool. He shows up about halfway through in what you think is a dream sequence but then sticks around when everyone wakes up and pops up again from time to time.  He is affectionate and energetic, without being too bouncy, and he is still young enough that his paws sometimes seem too big for him. He is well-trained, unlike the rest of the cast, and gives the best performance in the whole film.

Tarkovsky clearly does not know what he thinks about trains. He sends mixed messages about them.

For a long time it feels like you are only going to hear them off screen, and then when you do eventually see them they are disappearing into the fog. But then the Stalker and his clients find a motor-driven buggy that travels along the railway line. The sequence is so exhilarating, capturing the real experience of riding the rails, that the film turns into colour to express how magical it all is. But then they ditch the buggy and for some reason, the inattentive Tarkovsky forgets to turn the colour back off.

And the rest of the film seems to blame trains for everything, from the polluted landscape to the glass the naughty girl carelessly breaks at the end.

From what I could make out from the people leaving the cinema behind me, a lot of people think that the dog, who is yelping offscreen, is moving it with his telekinetic powers. (Jason Wyngarde probably thinks that, too.)

Oh, and the monkey is not even a monkey.

1/10

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Mad Max Fury Road (George Miller 2015)

Mad-Max-Fury-Road-Immortan-Joeand so anyway it turns out that the best thing  about Mad Max Fury Road (2015), George Miller’s hilariously overblown and rather sandy remake of Waterworld (1995), is not the way it captures with uncanny precision the realities of  the post-Brexit British utopia, nor the way Max  is captured by a Duran Duran-worshipping cult led by Simon LeBon, who, frankly, has let himself go a bit (see above), nor the way Max’s straggly mullet is promptly  shaved off so he looks less like Mel Gibson and more like the love child of Daniel Craig and Kenneth Cranham, nor the way Imperator Furiosa persuades Immortan Joe’s brides to escape with her in a big lorry to Tom Hardy’s myspace or something, but the way in which if you think about the film’s style and themes alongside Babe: Pig in the City  (1998) and Happy Feet (2006) you finally have utterly incontrovertible evidence that auteurism is a genuine thing that explains films…

Stockholm: beating Banksy, calling Zack Snyder (superhero), recalling puppies and the original Doctor

To my surprise, Stockholm pre-empted Banksy.

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The original Dismaland, now called Gröna Lund, has been dismal ever since that night on 4 September 1967 when Jimi Hendrix refused to stop playing so they unplugged him. To overcome this shame, the city has recently opened a new venue, which enraged locals have already dubbed Dismaland Redux:

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Indeed, so grim and crime-infested has the city become, that officials have been forced to turn to vigilante justice. When the roaming gangs of thugs get too far out of hand the police commissioner has no choice but to call on Zack Snyder for help, projecting a  sigil into the sky to summon his aid:

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In his language, in any language, it means ‘hopeless’.

Long gone are the days of cheery social democracy, when the nearest thing to a threat faced by the city was the boundless energy of …

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Clifford the Big Red Church.

What few people remember is that Doctor Who was originally a Swedish television show, although the streets of Stockholm and other cities are littered with reminders.

 

It was here that the Doctor faced such enemies as the newly hatched troll sheep,

 

 

the tiniest goat you have ever seen pooh,

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and the dread advance of the robot giraffes of doom.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens (JJ Abrams 2015)

_1443544274and so anyway it turns out that the best thing about Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2014) is not the way tumbleweed blows across the Tatooine desert when Simon Pegg makes his desperately unfunny ‘Rey gun’ joke, nor is it the revelation that the ‘home’ Han is so glad to be back at is the one in which his grandkids have dumped him, where he rooms with Bruce Campbell’s Elvis and Ossie Davis’s JFK, no, the best thing about the new Star Wars movie is the eighteen months of misdirection during which Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill straight-up straightface lied about the next Jump Street movie cross-over being with the Men in Black franchise…

The Drop (Michaël R. Roskam 2014)

the-drop-tom-hardyand so anyway it turn out that the best thing about The Drop (2014) is not that we get to see James Gandolfini in action one last time, nor is it the reminder of quite how good a writer Dennis Lehane is, nor is it the way that it confirms that the sole motivation left to men in contemporary cinema is protecting or revenging their dogs, as in Equilibrium, I Am LegendThe Rover, John Wick (and presumably John Wick 2) and the Fast and Furious franchise (let’s face it, Paul Walker was basically Vin Diesel’s adorable little stray), as well as Human Target on the telly, no, the best thing about The Drop is every single scene in which Tom Hardy picks up young Rocco (or Mike, as he would have preferred to call him) and it becomes  impossible to decide which is the cutest puppy of all…

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Fehér isten a.k.a. White God (Kornél Mundruczó Hungary 2014)

whitegodIf you like dogs, and you like revolution…

If Jupiter Ascending has whetted your appetite for films in which a girl and her dog fight against tyranny and longueurs…

Trailer

White God begins with a beautifully composed aerial shot of a major Budapest intersection. The streets are deserted. A tiny figure cycles up onto the flyover.

It has a familiar eeriness to it – like the deserted Waterloo Bridge near the start of 28 Days Later…, but without the graininess, the obvious digital compositing. And, shot from so far above, it is as much about the construction of urban spaces and the ways they channel us as it is about the shocking emptiness of this particular space at this moment.

The cyclist – a young girl, Lili, maybe thirteen years old – passes an abandoned car, its doors wide open, and descends into the city streets. Through intersection after intersection. Patient, determined. As if searching, cautiously and with trepidation.

Then the dogs appear.

Dozens of them.

Running.

Not from something, but toward something. With purpose.

They barely even notice her.

The film leaps back a few weeks. Lili’s mother and her partner are off to Australia for three months, so she is left with her father – once a professor, now a meat inspector at an abattoir, dishevelled and disgruntled. (He is inspired by David Lurie, the protagonist of JM Coetzee’s Disgrace (1991)). Lili insists on taking her dog, Hagen, with her.

The tension between estranged father and daughter soon focuses on the dog, culminating in Hagen being abandoned by a busy roadside.

The film then follows two paths.

white god-feher isten-zsofia psotta-hagenAn oh-so-arthouse mildly prurient exploration of the occasionally sexualised Lili’s pubescent struggles – with her father, with older teenagers from the orchestra in which she plays trumpet – as she tries to find Hagen and ultimately reconciles with her father.

And the story of Hagen’s life as a stray. He is befriended by a dog_THUMB-1418155236944scruffy terrier, who teaches him about life on the streets, how to find food and water and shelter. How to avoid the city dogcatchers. Le barkour. But Hagen is eventually caught and sold into the world of dogfighting.

In the arena he quickly learns the horrible cost of this so-called sport.

Soon, Hagen finds himself in the dog pound, facing a lethal injection. He rebels, rather bloodily, and frees the other dogs.

He is Barktacus; they have nothing to lose but their chains.

The canine uprising has begun.

A lot of the criticism the film faced after winning the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes last year has to do with the supposed murkiness of its metaphor. This is typical of critics who don’t quite get how fantasy works, and who are incapable of finding value in the fantastic until they have translated it into the mundane. What exactly do the dogs stand for? They don’t have to stand for anything. Let them just be dogs; they will accrue meaning(s) regardless.

In complaining about the purported failure of White God‘s symbolism to symbolise some particular thing clearly, critics unwittingly clamour for an unambiguous one-to-one allegorical correspondence between manifest and latent content. Which is precisely what they would complain about if the film actually did do something so lunkheaded. That would be like  valuing Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) so highly solely because it is a roman à clef of the Bolshevik revolution and the emergence of Stalinism, rather than because it is also much richer and more ambiguous than that.

Kornél Mundruczó has cited a range of sf influences – Alien, Blade Runner, Terminator – although his film probably comes closer to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972). He inevitably mentions Bresson’s Au hazard Balthazar (1966), and more surprisingly the films of Fassbinder and of Sirk:

For me, White God and All That Heaven Allows is the same story. Both discuss how society confines and forces people to behave.

The genius of Sirk’s film is to move between the constraints faced by a middle-aged widow and the repressiveness of an entire society. Mundruczó’s film is perhaps less successful, but the alternation between the two narrative strands creates a similar critical resonance. It is about race and about immiseration and about state power and about the tyranny of free markets; about family, gender and generation; about species; about surviving and providing and being better than the unhomely world we daily build will allow.

It is also about crossing The Incredible Journey (1963) with The Birds (1963) with Zéro de conduite (1933) or, better yet, Hue and Cry (1947), and throwing in a little Pied Piper of Hamelin, so as to rework, as its anagrammatical title suggests, Sam Fuller’s White Dog (1982).

Does it work? Not quite. But that did not keep me from enjoying loads of it, mostly the doggy parts.

Some might complain about the film’s typical liberal substitution of a vague warm fuzzy feeling for the coherent revolutionary politics it is incapable of imagining. But it is a film that functions primarily on an affective level. There is so much simple joy to beb9114194-0ea0-4e19-8aa1-312cd5d19455-460x276 found in seeing dozens of dogs, all different sizes and shapes and colours, running freely together, in fast motion and slow, that the image of revolution undergoes a quite radical transformation – it is violent and scary, but it is also comical and energetic and charming and delightful, as any worthwhile revolution must surely be.

And almost incidentally it does have some good politics in the mix. According to dog-trainer Teresa Miller, the two dogs playing Hagen don’t quite understand that they are dogs, and so simply did not get that they were supposed to be leading the pack. So although Hagen runs near the front of the pack, he never leads it. He is no Bane, which helps keep the canine rebels from becoming some clumsy reactionary representation of Occupy or Indignado or Tahrir or Syntagma, and which helps keep him unmuzzled. white-godAnd the film ends in media res, not with a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) memorialisation of an already foreclosed future but, like The Birds, with the future still open … and if Hagen and his dogged comrades can just get to the horses, the cows, the sheep, the birds….

Note While leaving the cinema, I was momentarily thrown by the end credit I thought read ADDITIONAL CATS.