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Tag: movies

Two new movies for the dog days of summer

Two new dog movies — romantic comedies both — take a look at how dogs can bring us humans together.

“Dog Days,” (trailer above) follows the lives of multiple dogs and their owners in Los Angeles as their paths intertwine in life-changing ways.

“Patrick” is a UK-made Disney film about a hopeless single school teacher who inherits a pug called Patrick from her late grandmother and, despite an initial dislike of the dog, quickly learns he is a dude magnet.

Patrick is a spoiled little dog and they get off to a bad start, with the expressive pooch eating bedroom slippers, destroying furniture and turning up his nose at regular dog food.

But, as in “Dog Days,” the dog leads to a love connection, or two.

“Patrick” is described as “Bridget Jones’s Diary” meets “Turner and Hooch.” “Dog Days” is described as “Love Actually” meets “Marley and Me.”

Director Ken Marino acknowledges “Dog Days” is a feel good movie — and he meant it that way.

“The world is a really hard place right now to deal with every day. I wanted to dive into a movie that would make people feel good for a while,” he told People. “And I am sucker for dogs.”

“It’s about how people learn to be better people and how dogs help us and guide us in the right direction,” he says.

The cast includes Vanessa Hudgens, Eva Longoria, Nina Dobrev, Finn Wolfhard, Adam Pally, Rob Corddry, Tone Bell, Jon Bass, Michael Cassidy, Tig Notaro and dogs of all shapes and sizes.

It is scheduled to be released Aug. 10.

When dogs ruled the Hollywood shorts

Portraying dogs as humans — a topic we’ve brought up a few times, usually with a sneer — is as ensconced in Hollywood tradition as it has now become on Facebook.

Dogs talking in movies, in fact, is as nearly old as talkies themselves. In the Early Sound Era, trained dogs (aka as cheap labor) were commonly called on to appear in movies, particular movie shorts that were shown before the feature presentation in movie houses.

Of those, one series in the pack stood out: the “All-Barkie” Dogville Comedies, including “Hot Dog” (above).

From 1929 to 1931, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced a series of nine short comedy films, sometimes known as the “barkies.”

The actors in these films, directed by Zion Myers and conceived and co-directed by Jules White (who both later gained fame for The Three Stooges comedies), were trained dogs, usually dressed in human attire, whose voices were dubbed by human actors.

Their aim, most often, was laughs. They commonly mocked the often naughty and haughty behavior of the noble class — and spoofed the era’s movies, as well.

But as you’ll see here today, some of them had a pretty dark side.

The series is somewhat controversial today — and was even then — due to suspected methods alleged to have been used to get the dogs to pose and to appear to talk, and they stopped being made after criticism over a scene in the final one, portraying canine cannibalism.

Of course “talking dogs” were nothing new by the 1930s. Talking movies were, though, and dogs pretty much worked for free.

The films were shot with silent film and dubbed over with human speech, often using the voices of White and Myers, as well as other actors.

The Dogville shorts started with 1929’s “College Hounds”, a parody of Buster Keaton’s “College” that features a huge doggie football game. The next film was “Hot Dog,” about a murder in a seedy cabaret after a jealous husband finds out his wife has been cheating on him.

After that came “Who Killed Rover?” and a Broadway parody called “The Dogway Melody.”

Those were followed by “The Big Dog House,” “All’s Canine on the Western Front,” and “Love Tails of Morocco.”

A nationwide theatre owners poll in 1930 rated the Dogvilles as the best short subjects over more legendary comedy and musical series, according to article published last year by Atlas Obscura

Many of the dogs were supplied by renowned Hollywood animal trainer Rennie Renfro, who was present for the making of the films.

To make the canine performers appear as if they were speaking, a director or Renfro himself would stand in front of a dog and wave various lures to focus the canine’s attention. The human would then open his hand repeatedly to entice the dog to open its mouth. Other times, they gave the dogs toffee to make them chomp.

A January 1931 article in Popular Science Monthly says the directors preferred using stray and mixed-breed dogs “because they are not high strung and can get along better in groups than the animal ‘prima donnas’ of breeding.”

Based on trade papers of the time, the Dogville Comedies were well-received and director White would call the series the favorite project of his career.

But not everyone was tickled and charmed by the “Barkies.”

There are some accounts that piano wire was used to help the dogs remain upright — as if they were part dog, part marionette.

The Performing and Captive Animals’ Defense League wrote to the British Board of Film Censors to protest the release of the movies and several films in the series were banned by British censors.

The creators stopped making the Dogville Comedies in 1931 after the controversial “Trader Hound,” a spoof of the movie, “Trader Horn.” The short was banned by U.K. censors for its hints at cannibalism — albeit dogs eating dogs, as opposed to humans eating humans

In retrospect, some see the short films — just as some see The Three Stooges — as having a mean edge. On one hand, they seem aimed at children; on the other, the plots were often mature, featuring adultery and murder.

Throw in the animal welfare concerns, and the fact that humanizing dogs doesn’t do anyone any good, and they can be looked at — by me anyway — as a less than glorious chapter of Hollywood history.

The complete series of Dogville Comedies has been released on DVD by Warner Bros. as part of its Warner Archive Collection.

New kids film “Show Dogs” draws fire from parents groups

In the somewhat bizarre world of dog shows, the one traditional practice that most strikes outsiders as weird comes at that point in judging when a judge cops a feel of a male dog’s testicles.

As part of what’s called conformation — or seeing how well a dog conforms to “standards” — the process is usually a quick check, aimed at making sure the dog is intact (not fixed) and that his testicles have properly descended.

But to dog show spectators, who traditionally include families and children, it’s hard to miss.

It is also hard to miss in the new film “Show Dogs,” a family-oriented movie that stars Ludacris as the voice of a talking police dog named Max who infiltrates a prestigious dog show to investigate a suspected animal smuggling ring.

One subplot of the movie involves Max becoming comfortable, as a dog show contestant, with strangers touching his genitals.

In the PG-rated film, Max must learn how to “get used to” the groping, and it’s that aspect that has some parenting groups fuming about the movie.

showdogsWhatever parents teach their children about “inappropriate touching” and sexually predatory behavior, they say, this movie seems to be sending an opposite message: Grin and bear it, accept it, it’s no big deal.

Valid a concern as that may be, it’s funny — to me at least — that the practice is so accepted and goes so unquestioned at dog shows, also aimed at being fun for the whole family, but is proving so irksome in a comedic family movie.

Does that piece of a dog show really have to be performed before an audience of adults and children? Couldn’t it be done backstage, or as part of a behind the scenes pre-show screening procedure?

You don’t hear those concerns voiced so much among the high society dog show crowd — just as you don’t hear too much discussion about why a similarly sized, fully descended pair of testicles is so important in the first place in such competitions.

It’s because the American Kennel Club and other dog show operators see the competitions as a way to select and crown dogs that are prime breeding stock — those healthy and perfect dog that comes closest, appearance wise, to standards. (Standards set, by the way, by the AKC and other groups.)

Standards? How about one that doesn’t require a dog to to through a public groping in front of thousands, or maybe one that doesn’t require him to go through it at all.

From the makers of “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” the movie opened in theaters May 18. It tells the story of a human detective (Will Arnett) and his canine partner Max, a Rottweiler whose voice is provided by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges. Together they go undercover at the world’s most exclusive dog show to solve a big case involving a stolen panda.

Since it opened, the movie has caught the attention of several parenting blogs, Entertainment Weekly reported.

“Max’s success is riding on whether or not he lets both his partner (for practice) and a stranger (the competition judge) touch his private parts. IN A KIDS MOVIE. WHAT??? Newsflash, folks: THIS IS CALLED GROOMING and it’s what sexual predators do to kids!” wrote Jenny Rapson in the blog “For Every Mom.”

In reality, those who show dogs do condition their dogs to get used to the groping to ensure they will behave properly during the judging practice.

“The movie ‘Show Dogs’ sends a troubling message that grooms children for sexual abuse,” said the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, previously known as Morality in Media. “It contains multiple scenes where a dog character must have its private parts inspected, in the course of which the dog is uncomfortable and wants to stop but is told to go to a ‘zen place.’ The dog is rewarded with advancing to the final round of the dog show after passing this barrier.

“Disturbingly, these are similar tactics child abusers use when grooming children — telling them to pretend they are somewhere else, and that they will get a reward for withstanding their discomfort. Children’s movies must be held to a higher standard, and must teach children bodily autonomy, the ability to say ‘no’ and safety, not confusing messages endorsing unwanted genital touching.”

The filmmakers responded to the concerns with this statement:

“It has come to our attention that there have been online discussion and concern about a particular scene in Show Dogs, a family comedy that is rated PG. The dog show judging in this film is depicted completely accurately as done at shows around the world; and was performed by professional and highly respected dog show judges.

“Global Road Entertainment and the filmmakers are saddened and apologize to any parent who feels the scene sends a message other than a comedic moment in the film, with no hidden or ulterior meaning, but respect their right to react to any piece of content.”

Yesterday, though, the studio announced it would be removing two of the most controversial scenes from the movie, according to CNN.

Guess us kids will have to wait for the next Westminster Dog Show to see the grabbing of the gonads.

“Show Dogs” is clearly not an exercise in reality, what with its talking dogs and all, but it did pretty accurately nail this particular aspect of dog shows.

So why is it people are so quick to jump on, edit and whitewash a portrayal of a reality and fashion it more to their liking — all while not giving a second thought as to whether the reality deserves some scrutiny and reconsideration, too?

Don, the talking dog who started it all

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In this era of talking dogs — from the animated creatures in Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs” to those so easily found “conversing” on the Internet — it might behoove us to remember the first “real” one, the star of a vaudeville act known as Don the Talking Dog.

And since not too many of us were around in 1912 to recall that, we’re fortunate that Smithsonian Magazine writer Greg Daugherty revisited that era and that dog for the magazine recently.

Don the Talking Dog, a setter or pointer from Germany, made his debut in the U.S. in 1912 — during the golden age of vaudeville, the less salty cousin of burlesque, which was traditionally peppered with acts featuring animals doing human things.

There, for a few quarters, you could see rats riding cats around racetracks, dancing elephants, boxing kangaroos, juggling sea lions and monkeys displaying an array of talents.

smithsonianillustrationDon the Talking Dog — proclaimed “the canine phenomenon of the century” — took things a step further. He, or so his name implied, talked.

Only in German, of course. But with a heavy population of German immigrants at the time in New York City, he became a major hit.

He had already garnered attention in Europe by then, with a vocabulary that reached eight words.

His first word was haben (“have” in English), followed by his own name, the word kuchen (cake or biscuit), ja and nein, ruhe (rest) and hunger (which is the same in both languages).

Generally, he didn’t speak in sentences, just one word at a time, and only when prompted by his trainer.

Don arrived in the U.S. in 1912 at the invitation of the vaudeville impresario William Hammerstein.

“Don will sail on the Kronprinz Wilhelm next Wednesday,” the New York Times noted. “A special cabin has been engaged in order to insure his safety.”

When Don’s ship docked, he was greeted by reporters, though they were disappointed not to get any good quotes.

Don stayed in the U.S for the next two years, making appearances in New York and around the country, once performing on the same bill as escape artist Harry Houdini. He then toured the country, performing in Boston, San Francisco, and other cities.

His act consisted of answering a series of questions served up by his regular straight man and interpreter, a vaudeville veteran known as Loney Haskell. Haskell became so attached to Don, according to news reports at that, “that in one-night stands he slept in the dog’s kennel.”

The journal Science, party poopers even back then, didn’t quite buy his act: “The speech of Don is … to be regarded properly as the production of sounds which produce illusions in the hearer.”

screen_shot_2018-04-20_at_45805_pmDespite his dubious skills and limited vocabulary, Don became a pioneering celebrity endorser, for Milk-Bone dog biscuits.

After two years in the U.S., Don retired and returned to his homeland. Haskell once calculated that their stage performances paid Don $92 per word, the equivalent of about $2,300 a word today. He died at home, near Dresden, Germany, in late 1915.

Smithsonian reported, “His last words, if any, seem to have gone unrecorded.”

Other “talking” dogs would follow, including Rolf, a German-born terrier who supposedly communicated by a form of Morse code, and was able to add and subtract, and Queen, who was described as “positively the only dog in the world that speaks the English language.”

Fast forward 100 years and we still have folks making those claims — dog owners, scientists, and entrepreneurs, each group with probably a few hucksters among them, who claim to be on the verge of a device that translates dog to human.

Take them as you would the dogs speaking in this compilation (none of whom can say compilation, by the way) — with a grain of salt.

(Illustrations: Smithsonian Magazine)

Theater to offer dogs a screening of new Wes Anderson movie, Isle of Dogs

The Roxie Theater in San Francisco is having a bring-your-dog screening of Wes Anderson’s new movie, “Isle of Dogs.”

Why? Well for one reason, publicity just like this. For another, they think dog owners will be willing to buy their dogs a ticket, which will allow them to double sales.

The 4 p.m. (Pacific Time) screening will be March 19, Indie Wire reported Tuesday.

According to the theater, “This is a BYOD event! Dogs are invited and will be in attendance at this screening. Dogs and owners will each need to have a ticket to attend. You do not need to have/bring a dog to attend. Owners are responsible for their dog’s behavior. Overly aggressive or uncontrollable dogs will be asked to leave.”

The movie will open in select theaters March 23.

“Isle of Dogs” features the voices of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Greta Gerwig, Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, Scarlett Johnasson, Yoko Ono, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum and Frances McDormand.

The stop action movie is set 20 years in the future in a Japanese city, where canine overpopulation and an outbreak of dog flu has led the local government to banish dogs to an island filled with trash.

A 12-year-old boy hijacks a plane and flies to the island in search of his dog, Spots, beginning a quest in which he is assisted by five other exiled dogs (all of whom speak, of course).

In “Isle of Dogs,” canines in a Japanese city are banished to an island of trash

Director Wes Anderson has been secretive about the plot of his new animated movie, “Isle of Dogs,” but judging from a trailer released last week it will be trademark Anderson — bleakly beautiful, deceptively sentimental, more than a little haunting, and unconventional, with a capital UN.

It is set, 20 years from now, in a Japanese city, where canine overpopulation and an outbreak of dog flu has led the local government to banish dogs to an island filled with trash.

A 12-year-old boy hijacks a plane and flies to the island in search of his dog, Spots, and so begins an epic quest (is there any other kind these days?) in which he is assisted by five other exiled dogs (all of whom speak, of course).

“We’ll find him,” one of the dogs reassure the boy. “Wherever he is. If he’s alive. We’ll find your dog.”

It remains to be seen how family friendly the film will be, and whether it, like many other Anderson films, will have dogs dying off as the plot unwinds.

The movie is Anderson’s first feature since 2014’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

Its cast of voice actors includes Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Frances McDormand, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Courtney B. Vance, Harvey Keitel, Scarlett Johansson and Yoko Ono.

The film is scheduled to hit theaters in March, 2018.

“A Dog’s Purpose” cancels premiere after video shows dog mistreated

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Universal Pictures has canceled a premiere and press junket scheduled for “A Dog’s Purpose” amid a growing furor over a video that shows one of its canine stars being mistreated during filming.

Distributor Universal and production company Amblin Entertainment announced late Thursday that the premiere and a Monday press day were being scrapped. The movie’s opening remains scheduled for Jan. 27.

“Because Amblin’s review into the edited video released yesterday is still ongoing, distributor Universal Pictures has decided it is in the best interest of A Dog’s Purpose to cancel this weekend’s premiere and press junket,” a joint release stated. “Amblin and Universal do not want anything to overshadow this film that celebrates the relationship between animals and humans.”

Meanwhile, PETA has called for a boycott of the movie, actor Josh Gad has asked for an explanation, and the the American Humane Association has launched an independent investigation into why its safety representative overlooked an apparent case of cruelty during the movie’s filming.

For a scene in the movie, based on the popular book of the same name, a frightened German shepherd was forced into a churning pool of water and, at one point, sunk beneath the surface.

The video, shot in 2015, was released by TMZ — the week before the film’s opening — after the program received it from undisclosed sources.

“American Humane has reviewed the video and we are disturbed and concerned by the footage,” the AHA told PEOPLE in a statement. “When the dog showed signs of resistance to jumping in the water, the scene should have been stopped.”

harmedThe AHA monitors the safety of animals used in the entertainment industry and bestows the “No animals were harmed” label on the finished products — as it did in this case.

The AHA has suspended the safety representative who worked on the film, and has asked an outside party to conduct an investigation into the slip-up, said Mark Stubis, a spokesman for the organization.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released a statement calling on dog lovers to boycott the film “in order to send the message that dogs and other animals should be treated humanely, not as movie props.”

“Sadly, such abuse appears to be the norm, not the exception, in the entertainment industry,” PETA said.

PETA reported on its website that the company that supplied the dogs in the film, Birds & Animals Unlimited, has a problematic record. PETA said it has filed previous complaints about the company with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

gadOne of the movie’s stars, Josh Gad, who provides the voice of the dog in the movie and never appeared on set, said the video left him “shaken.”

“I signed on for a film that truly stands out as one of the most beautiful love letters to animals I have ever seen. Today, however, I saw a disturbing video that appears to show a scared German shepherd being forced to perform a stunt on the set of this film … I am shaken and sad to see any animal put in a situation against its will.

“As a proud dog owner and a fervent supporter of organizations like PETA, I have reached out to the production team and studio to ask for an explanation,” he added.

In a joint statement, production company Amblin Entertainment and distributor Universal Pictures assured that Hercules, the dog in the video, was unharmed and is “happy and healthy.”

They said the movie’s crew “followed rigorous protocols to foster an ethical and safe environment for the animals,” but added they are looking into the situation.

Director Lasse Hallström, a three-time Oscar nominee, said he didn’t witness the scene recorded on video — even though TMZ initially reported he was on the set the day the scene was shot in Canada in 2015.

“I have been promised that a thorough investigation into this situation is underway and that any wrongdoing will be reported and punished.”

harrison

The movie, based on the best selling novel by W. Bruce Cameron, tells the story of a golden retriever passing away, being reincarnated as a German shepherd, corgi and then a St. Bernard. In his last incarnation he is reunited with his original owner.

The one-minute video clip shows the shepherd being coaxed, then shoved into the pool. Later it shows the dog sinking under the water, at which point someone yells “cut it,” and trainers rush to the dog’s aid.

That the video was leaked the week before the much-publicized movie’s release, as opposed to shortly after it was recorded, indicates someone was waiting until it reached peak market value.

TMZ hasn’t said whether they purchased the video, or how much they paid for it.