Monday, 31 March 2014

White Dog

In continuation of their fine Masters of Cinema series, Eureka Video is releasing Samuel Fuller's forgotten controversial title White Dog on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 31st March.

Fuller's film from 1980 tells the story of a white dog who when taken in by a would-be Hollywood starlet Julie Sawyer (Kristy McNichol) after hitting him one night, realises that her new best friend only seems to like people of a certain skin colour.  The dog is called a white dog (despite its white Alsatian breeding) because it has been trained to bark, sneer and even kill black people.

Julie takes the dog to a specialist trainer called Keys (Paul Winfield), himself a black man who attempts to train the racism out of the dog through aversion therapy and feeding it hamburgers from his black hand.

There are obstacles as with any psychological evaluation, one jail break from the dog one night results in him chasing a black man and killing him in a church.  The symbolism was never lost on Fuller.  Yet we never see the full bloody gore of the attack, the barking and biting is all done in the edit, and Winfield conveys the full horror of the assault through his look alone.  Fuller holds on Keys when he comes across the body in the church and in a long take, allows Winfield to show us the horror in his eyes.

Winfield a stalwart of American prime-time television throughout the 1980s and 90s was one of those amazing well-spoken black actors of this era along with James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams and Carl Weathers; all men of integrity and intelligence without resorting to physical domination in mark contrast to say Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.

Fuller who wrote the screenplay with a young Curtis Hanson (LA Confidential), made a taut and tight thriller that is small on exposition but helped by a stellar cast who do a lot with limited roles and create a world of fear and the unknown due to the odd nature of the canine attacker.

The film was vilified upon completion and not granted a release due to the supposed sensationalist nature of the material and a NAACP fear that the film would stoke up racist violence and allow racists to train racist dogs.  The film was essentially shelved and following the upheaval surrounding the two and four hour cuts of his World War Two opus The Big Red One (1980), Fuller was all but done in Hollywood.

The film is not racist but instead an exploration of the creation of racism and the handling of it.  The story is about a white girl who seeks help from a black man.  Told with the thrilling use of close-ups on McNichol to convey her fear and worry, and editing expertly to convey the rage within the white dog of the title.

Ripe for a re-appraisal from one of the unheralded masters of American cinema, White Dog is a brilliant evocation of racism and psychology dealt with intelligence and finesse.

White Dog is out on Blu-Ray and DVD from Eureka Video on Monday 31st March

Watch a trailer of White Dog here

Tuesday, 18 March 2014


Peccadillo Pictures

First seen on these shores during the 2013 London Film Festival when nominated for the prestigious Sutherland Trophy for debut feature film.  Salvo is visceral and dynamic bow by Italian pair Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza gains a theatrical release from Peccadillo Pictures on 21st March.

Salvo (Saleh Bakri) is the name of a Mafia hit-man in Sicily, Italy who is one of the best in the business as seen by the opening sequence when he takes out would-be aggressors.  His next big job involves him killing a rival clan.  During the job, he encounters a blind girl, Rita (Sara Serraiocco) who stands innocently by as Salvo kills her brother.  What follows is a morality tale between the two during intense exchanges, as Salvo becomes aware of his life's work and Rita becomes accustomed to her captor who spares her life and for both the journey together becomes one about redemption.

Shot on location in their hometown of Palermo, the directing duo bring a real sense of place and location to the action helped by growing up in the vicinity of the action.  The Mafia in Sicily is so prevalent to everyday life, the pair knowingly incorporate the myth and legend of the mafia into the story; the fear they hold over all who they surround is paramount.

Tellingly though, for a generic film of Mafia's built around the tropes of violence and action this film is slighter and softer; the eponymous hit-man is very methodical and deliberate in his actions which helps create an aura of mystique about him and a world of enclosure.
Bakri's performance of near muteness is a wonder here, his towering presence helping establish the solitary individual in his role; reminiscent of Clint Eastwood's famous Man with no Name and even Javier Bardem's performance as Chigurh in No Country for Old Men.

It is rare for a first time film to take such care in the construction of an aural landscape, the use of a particular Italian song when Salvo first intrudes Rita's house is a cleverly harked back to by the film's conclusion.

The sound design by Guillaume Sciama is exemplary and the script by Grassadonia and Piazza is first rate, conveying a sense of purpose for the lead characters without resorting to cheap narrative tricks and treating an audience with as much respect as they pay to their characters along with the situation they find themselves in.

Calling cards carry bombast, however the Italian pair have taken great pains to facilitate the world of isolation that both Salvo and Rita find themselves in; and the deliberate disruption of audience in terms of aurality and seeing and not seeing pays dividends.  Debuts can be clever, but rarely are they as intelligent and immersive as this.

Salvo (12A) is out on Friday 21st March from Peccadillo Pictures

Labor Day - preview

 Labor Day (2013) Poster

Labor Day is the fifth feature film of director Jason Reitman who has received critical acclaim for his work on Thank You For Smoking and then promoting to the Hollywood stratosphere with the double whammy of Oscar-winning Juno and then Up In the Air.

Reitman has always had an ability to do films indebted to the script and the dialogue between characters that drive the plot and narrative of the picture.  However, in Labor Day he has adapted a book by Joyce Maynard, which tells the story of a fugitive Frank (Josh Brolin) who is harbored by a single mother Adele (Kate Winslet) and her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) for a few days.  The initial fear of Frank slowly subsides as he takes on the position of parent and husband in the home, creating a nuclear family and fills the void for each individual.

As shown here in a brief scene, the need to stay outweighs Frank's need to flee:

The film appears to be a slow-down for Reitman whose films are full of movement, people on the move or people wanting to leave their natural habitat.  Here, Frank needs to keep moving however, the overwhelming need to remain and feel needed causes a requirement to stay put. Reitman though is adapt at creating a picture of small-town life and community take for instance the high school world of Juno and Charlize Theron's return to her hometown in Young Adult.

Yet this is Reitman's first attempt at an out and out dramatic picture, although the film did not garner much attention during Oscar season (a first for a Reitman picture) it nevertheless from the trailer does give an indication of a well acted piece as expected with two purple patch actors like Brolin and Winslet.

For a brief interview with the cast and crew, follow this link 

Labor Day is out on Friday 21st March at selected cinemas 

Monday, 17 March 2014

Get tough on diving

Somewhere lost in another pulsating Premier League weekend where we had Jose Mourinho dismissed from the touch line after his player Ramires' awful tackle at Villa Park, Vincent Kompany kicking a wall at Hull after letting Nikita Jelavic give him the slip and where the top four teams - Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal - remain four points apart meaning an end that will not be matched for several years.

Lost amongst all this were two examples of diving that further showed that it is near impossible for referees to get it right all the time and how the Football Association are failing to combat the persistent problem of simulation and diving in football.

The conduct do both Daniel Sturridge and George Boyd created flash points in the games that they were involved in and should lead to disciplinary proceedings.

This writer is calling on an independent panel to be employed by the Premier League and in unison with the FA to sit on Monday mornings and dish out retrospective suspensions on players that warrant such attention.

Daniel Sturridge's simulation occurred in the penalty area and led to the award of
Liverpool's 3rd penalty of the match at Old Trafford versus Manchester United. The sheer pace of Sturridge led to Nemanja Vidic diving in. At full speed there appears to be contact and looks a stonewall penalty, however, replays showed Sturridge has gone to ground without contact being made. It's an amazing dive yet it led to the dismissal of Vidic for a second bookable offence. Justice was somewhat served in that Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard missed the penalty keeping the score 2-0, yet Liverpool did eventually win 3-0.

However, I am sure the referee Mark Clattenburg will feel he has been duped by Sturridge, yet because he has only booked Vidic and not dismissed him for denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity the chances of the referee rescinding the card is slim.

This is where said tribunal can come to the fore and rule that Vidic's second yellow be rescinded and not serve a suspension. As for Sturridge they can rule that his conduct is unsporting behaviour and he should serve a one-match suspension. If that is the case, Liverpool lose a vital player for the title run-in and if that is the case such a suspension should act as a deterrent to players like Sturridge.
The tribunal can also act in retrospect for players who are booked for simulation, and rule that upon reflection maybe the booking was harsh.

Referees require help, goal-line technology is helping but such procedures of reviews of decisions will help the elite referees get better and obviously will work as a merit table. If some referees' decisions are always getting attention then maybe they are not cut out for the big games.

As for Boyd, it was symptomatic of an odd refereeing performance by Lee Mason. He sent off Kompany correctly, missed a red card tackle by Elmohamady on David Silva and also missed the simulation by George Boyd. Because Mr. Mason missed Boyd going to ground easily, a clearly infuriated Joe Hart berated Boyd and even put his head into Boyd's. On another day, another referee would have dismissed England's goalkeeper - yet the lack of action upon Boyd meant Hart felt compelled to have his say. Joe Hart got booked for adopting an aggressive attitude and his yellow cannot be elevated to a red as it maybe should; yet if Hart was suspended should not Boyd for such a blatant act of simulation. Boyd is not a regular and he missing a game would hurt his chances of remaining in the club.

Another thing to note is that the media so enamoured with goals and the spectacular were more reflective upon the domination of Liverpool over the current English champions (and rightly so), should really address the issue of diving with the club's managers. Whilst praise for Brendan Rodgers is correct, why not one question about the conduct of his striker? Too often an excuse is 'he is not that sort of player' and yet his actions clearly state the contrary; managers need to apologise and say their star players should play honestly as this trickles down to all levels of grass roots football.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Loss of Root a problem

The unfortunate news that Joe Root will miss the World Twenty20 Cup in Bangladesh for England, is another blow in a cruel winter for England following the debacle of the Ashes tour in Australia.

Root sustained the injury batting during his maiden ODI century in Antigua last week.  The character Root showed in completing the milestone was in stark contrast to the boyish image of innocence we have become accustomed to.  Root was one of the few English batsmen to not show timidity to the Australian bowlers, however like all his colleagues he had no answer to the onslaught.

Yet the loss of Root does not deny England a settled batsmen in a line-up and the alternative to the absent Jonathan Trott, the loss of Root's ability to bowl vital overs of off-spin in the sub-continent in unison with James Tredwell and Stephen Parry.

England utilised Root in the 50 over matches versus the West Indies opening the bowling giving him four overs to stem the flow of runs at the start of the opponents innings, and by and large it worked with Root taking a wicket in each match.

Now the option of Root opening the bowling also helped to hide Stuart Broad's bothersome knee injury by not having the captain bowl his full quota.  Now England need to find an alternative.

Luckily, there is one in the squad in Moeen Ali who bats at the top of the order and also offers leg spin. Ali will probably bat at 3 with the Nottinghamshire pair of Alex Hales and Michael Lumb established atop the order. Ail is a left-hander who can rotate the strike.

A criticism of England's innings is that they too often look for a big shot and face off too many dot balls.  The unexciting Samuel Badree bowled 16 dot balls yet gained three wickets. 16 dot balls out of 24 balls bowled, quite astounding.

England seem to rely too much on their seam attack, yet they need to establish a criteria and gameplan here in the Caribbean for the sub-continent. Pick two seamers, now Dernbach and Bresnan following Broad's injury and supplement with Tredwell (who bowled tidily), Parry, Ali as well as the slower medium pace of Ravi Bopara who was most impressive with his wicket to wicket bowling that frustrated the Windiest batsmen.

Expect an XI of Hales, Lumb, Ali, Stokes (who can bowl but looks worn-out) Morgan, Buttler, Bopara, Bresnan, Parry, Tredwell and Dernbach.

England have called up Ian Bell as Root's replacement as a man of experience, however, it is unlikely Bell will play as he does not have the power required and offers no bowling option.

Joe Root has been mocked in some quarters for his boyish glee and impishness, yet like most players of quality and talent, when they are absent you miss them all that much more