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Tag: movies

White God: It’s not the nerds getting revenge in this haunting Hungarian film

In terms of its story line, White God isn’t too different from any other movie in which the bullied rise up and get even with the bullies.

What makes it different — and makes it shine — is that in this case the bullied are abused and mistreated dogs, a species that already knows (perhaps better and more instinctively than us) that there is strength in numbers.

Perhaps the most talked about scene in the much talked about Hungarian film — winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Prize Un Certain Regard Award and an official selection of Sundance Film Festival — is when a pack of 250 dogs, all mutts, stampede through the streets.

And what makes that scene even more impressive is that it was achieved not through computer graphics, but with dogs.

Director Kornel Mundruczo first issued a casting call for 100 dogs for the scene, then decided bigger would be better. More than 200 dogs ended up being involved, many of them from local animal shelters.

The scene serves as the movie’s climax, and it was a first of its kind achievement for the dog trainers involved.

Under the leadership of Hungarian dog trainer Árpád Halász, a team of humans was able to train the dogs to stampede in a pack in what was, in reality, a massive rush for treats.

One of the dog trainers involved, Teresa Ann Miller — daughter of a trainer who worked on films like Beethoven and Cujo — was interviewed about the movie on NPR this week.

Miller helped cast and train the two dogs who shared the role of Hagen.

The movie’s story begins when a young girl is forced to give up her dog, Hagen, because it is of mixed-breed heritage. Her father, unwilling to pay the fee required to keep a mutt, abandons Hagen in the streets.

Young Lili tries to find him, and Hagen tries to find her, but eventually he joins forces with, and becomes the leader of, hundreds of other abandoned, abused and mistreated dogs living in the streets.

As a pack, they rise up to seek revenge for the indignities they’ve suffered at the hands of humans.

(If the film has one fault, it’s the notion that dogs would seek revenge. They’re better than that.)

Miller told NPR that director Mundruczó wanted the stampede scene to look as real as possible — a goal complicated by the fact that no one has ever seen hundreds of domestic dogs running as a pack.

It was first rehearsed with 100 dogs running together.

Trainer Halász watched and then said, “What about 150?” Miller recounted. “And 150 looked so good that he says, What about 200? And each time Árpád learned, as he acquired the dogs and introduced other dogs into the pack, that it was possible.”

It took four months to prepare for the scene, she added.

“And that was amazing to see; that was fascinating. I’ve never seen it done. I’ve never seen such a large pack of dogs run together. And, quite honestly, I don’t think we’d ever do it here (in the U.S.) just for the time that it takes. It’s so much easier just to CGI it, but the director didn’t want that effect at all.”

Pooparazzi: Anne Hathaway’s revenge

Anne Hathaway

Anne HathawayActress Anne Hathaway and her chocolate lab, Esmerelda, teamed up to leave a gift on the windshield of a photographer that was dogging the duo as they tried to enjoy an afternoon walk.

The Huffington Post reported that the “Les Misérables” star was walking her dog on the day after Christmas and found herself being followed by a man with a camera.

When Esmerelda pooped, Hathaway dutifully scooped it up in a yellow plastic bag, and knotted the top.

Then, the website reports, she placed the bag on the windshield of the unidentified photographer’s car and walked away.

Movie animator charged with beating dog

 A 40-year-old DreamWorks animator – one who worked on animal-themed children’s movies such as “Kung Fu Panda” and “Madagascar 2″ —  has been arrested on an animal cruelty charge after a surveillance camera videotaped him beating a neighbor’s muzzled dog with a hammer.

Young Song pleaded not guilty in court yesterday and faces a preliminary hearing next month. He allegedly climbed a fence into a neighbor’s yard in Pasadena. Surveillance camera video shows the 16-month-old dog being beaten but does not reveal what Song did with the dog.

Authorities say the dog is missing and presumed dead.

Song was being held on $40,500 bail, according to authorities, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“When our officers first viewed the videotape, one of our officers had tears in his eyes. He’d never seen anything like this before,” said Steve McNall, who heads the Pasadena Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “In my 31 years at this animal shelter I’ve never seen anything like this.”

McNall’s agency, which is licensed to investigate crimes involving animals, is conducting the probe. It made the arrest in conjunction with Pasadena police.

According to authorities, the suspect shot the dog with a pellet gun, then returned with a hammer and began chasing and striking the animal.

The Times reported that Young works as a “surfacer,” an artisan who creates the look and surface qualities for animated characters, props and environments. Young’s credits on animal-themed films also include “Shark Tale” and “Bee Movie.”

The motive for the attack is not clear. “It might have originated as a barking issue, a noise issue, and then escalated into something else,” McNall said.

If convicted, Song could face more than four years in prison, the district attorney’s office said.

From “The Office” to the dog house

For all those wondering what Steve Carell would do after “The Office,” now we know: He has agreed to star in and co-produce a new movie about talking to a dog.

It may sound cutesy, but it’s not.

“Dogs of Babel” will be a film adaptation of the 2003 novel by Carolyn Parkhurst, described as a tragic story of love and loss, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Carell — pretty much a virgin when it comes to serious drama — will play a linguistic professor who comes home to find his wife dead in the backyard.

When the police rule the death an accident, the professor has some doubts, and he attempts to teach his dog Lorelei — the only witness – to talk, so he can learn about the final moments of his wife’s life.

“Sometimes love really is a bitch”

“My Dog Tulip” — J.R. Ackerley’s classic account of how a dog entered his life, stimulated his curiosity, broadened his horizons, and brightened his otherwise cranky golden years — is now out as an animated movie, and the book has been reissued in paperback.

“Unable to love each other, the English turn naturally to dogs,” the British writer wrote in what’s perhaps the most famous line of the 1956 book about the bond between dog and man.

“Sometimes love really is a bitch,” reads the tagline, updated for the times, of the new movie.

The movie came out late last summer, directed by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger, who are also responsible for the hand-drawn animations that, on screen, are like a New Yorker cartoon come to life.

The film is narrated by Christopher Plummer, in the role of Ackerley, and also features the voice of Lynn Redgrave, who died in May and to whom the movie is dedicated. One review called it “the most sophisticated dog movie ever made.”

It tells the story of a lonely gay man who has all but given up on finding a longtime companion and “ideal friend” in the human world.

Enter Tulip, or, as was her name in real life, Queenie, a German shepherd Ackerley acquired from his neighbors when he was “quite over 50,” and with whom he would spend the next 15 years.

“She offered me what I had never found in my life with humans: constant, single-hearted, incorruptible, uncritical devotion, which it is in the nature of dogs to offer.”

Ackerley died in 1967, and though the book is now 55 years old, it retains a sense of freshness attributable to the fact that Queenie was his first dog. His keen observation of inter-species interaction is that of someone who just landed on the planet, as opposed to being an old hand with dogs.

“It seemed to me both touching and strange,” he says at one point, “that she should find the world so wonderful.”

We long-time dog lovers know exactly what he means. It’s what makes dogs so lovable — they see the world as wonderful, and, no matter how curmudgeonly we may be, they help us see it that way too.

Roadside Encounter: James Dean

Name: James Dean

Breed: Brooding rebel

Age: 24 at the time of his death. Were he alive today, he’d be 79

Encountered: The James Dean sign is at Blackwell’s Corner, a gas station, nut dealer and memorabilia shop in Lost Hills, California that bills itself as “James Dean’s last stop.”

Backstory: An icon of 1950s Hollywood, Dean was killed in a head-on collision in 1955 — the same year the movie version of John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden” came out, in which Dean had a starring role. Steinbeck reportedly didn’t like Dean personally, but thought he was perfect for the role of Cal Trask.

After the movie’s release, Dean was driving his Porsche to Salinas for a car race. About 20 minutes after he gassed up at Blackwell’s Corner, an oncoming car struck his vehicle. He would posthumously receive an Academy Award nomination for best actor.

Today, Blackwell’s Corner specializes in pistachios and almonds, and also sells 1950s memorabilia. It offers a free pack of James Dean trading cards with a purchase of $75 or more.

All the world’s a stage — even Fargo

John Steinbeck, as he tells it in “Travels with Charley,” didn’t stop in Fargo.

He kept Rocinante rolling another 40 miles until he stumbled upon a more idyllic setting — yet another riverside camping spot, this one along the Maple River, near the sleepy little farming town of Alice. There, he just so happened to run into what would turn out to be one of the book’s more colorful characters, an itinerant Shakespearean actor.

Steinbeck would break out the coffee, and the whiskey, and listen as his flamboyant fellow camper explained that he performed Shakespeare around the country, in tents, in high schools  … “wherever two or three are gathered together … With me there’s no question of doing something else. It’s all I know — all I ever have known.”

Steinbeck recounted the meeting in great detail — including how the actor unfolded a packet of aluminum foil to reveal a note he once received from John Gielgud. After that, explaining the importance of a good exit, the actor makes one.

Was the Shakesperean actor a dramatic invention in Steinbeck’s classic work of non-fiction? We’ll probably never know. But indications are, just maybe, something is rotten in the state of North Dakota.

From all existing clues, it appears Steinbeck didn’t actually sleep in the town of Alice on the night of Oct. 12, which can only lead one to wonder if the actor was real, or if, like Tom Joad in ”The Grapes of Wrath,” he was artfully concocted by the author, most of whose works were fiction.

If so, it wouldn’t be the first discrepancy between Steinbeck’s account in “Travels with Charley” and what his papers and other sources reveal about his 1960 trip.

Many of those are now being brought to light by blogger Bill Stiegerwald as he retraces Steinbeck’s route. (Bill, who we met at the begining of our trip is a good two weeks ahead of me.)

“Contrary to what he wrote so nicely and in such detail in ‘Charley,’ Steinbeck didn’t camp overnight near Alice on the Maple River or anywhere else on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 1960,” Stiegerwald concluded on his blog, Travels Without Charley. “He stayed at… in Beach, N.D., some 300-plus miles to the west.”

This, along with some of the recent stops on our own retracing of Steinbeck’s travels with Charley, brings us back to our discussion of the truth in fiction, and the fiction in truth.

We’re all for the former, but have some problems with the latter. We have nothing against using the techniques of fiction writing in non-fiction – in portraying the innate suspense of a situation, or the turmoil raging inside characters; or in skipping over the boring stuff.  (Otherwise, a writer might end up boring readers with something as mundane as tossing french fries to his dog.)

But we’d argue that a reader of books, even a reader of blogs, deserves — like an eater of food — to know what he’s consuming. What sort of liberties an author of non-fiction has taken in processing the facts is information to which a reader should have access, much like a diner should be able to find out what sort of oil a fast food restaurant uses to cook its french fries.

The line between fiction and non-fiction, it seems, is becoming a difficult to define boundary. Then again, maybe it has always been so.

Earlier this week, our “Travels with Ace” took us to Sauk Centre, or as Sinclair Lewis called it in his 1920 novel “Main Street,” Gopher Prairie. “Main Street,” while labeled fiction, exposed many truths about small town life — more, at least initially, than some Sauk Centre residents cared to be exposed, proving that not only does the truth hurt, but fiction can as well.

Our next, and latest, stop was Fargo, which most people know through the Coen brothers movie of same name. The movie starts off with the words: “This is a true story …  At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”

But “Fargo” — whose characters were mostly portrayed as dull-witted sorts, living in a frozen wasteland — wasn’t a true story at all; rather it was a concoction of the wonderfully degenerate minds of two brothers from neighboring Minnesota.

Both the movie “Fargo” and the book “Main Street” brought some unflattering notoriety to the towns they were depicting — much like Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” offended some Oklahomans.

In addition to criticism that “The Grapes of Wrath” was too political, didn’t accurately describe the migration of farm families from the dust bowl to California, and some nitpicking that Sallisaw, the town it opens in, was not actually part of the Dust Bowl (a fairly major nit), there were those who thought the novel portrayed “Okies” as illiterate hicks.

(Possibly, that’s why when he was traveling with Charley, Steinbeck sidestepped the state of Oklahoma.)

In each case, though, once the dust settled, there was something close to a happily-ever-after ending – some acknowledgement of the truth beneath the fiction, or at least some evidence that any perceived slights were forgiven.

Sauk Centre, where Main Street now intersects with Sinclair Lewis Boulevard, has embraced Lewis, its most famous son, with an annual festival.

In Fargo, chamber of commerce types proclaim there has been “a renaissance” — not so much due to the movie itself, maybe, as to the efforts to show the world there was more to Fargo than the movie portrayed. In 2006, on the movie’s 10th anniversary, it was projected on the side of the Radisson Hotel, the city’s tallest building as part of the Fargo Film Festival.

And even Sallisaw, on the 100th anniversary of Steinbeck’s birth, started a “Grapes of Wrath” festival, though it was short-lived. It has since been replaced with the annual Diamond Daze Festival, which isn’t Steinbeck-related at all.

All of which, in addition to just being interesting, serves as proof that — as the maybe real, maybe not Shakespearean actor in “Travels with Charley” might have said — all the world really is a stage.


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