Sunday, March 29, 2015

A fun blast from the past: Elijah Drenner's smart bio-doc appreciation, THAT GUY DICK MILLER


You know him -- even if you don't know you know him. I'm referring to actor Dick Miller, who will turn 87 come Christmas Day and who has made, according to his wife Lainie, more than 200 movies throughout his 60-year career (the IMBD gives him credit for a mere 175), begin-ning with Apache Woman -- in which the actor played bit roles as both a cowboy and an indian. Beat that for a dandy debut.

Writer/director Elijah Drenner (shown at right) clearly has a soft spot for American B movies from the eras in which Miller worked (and continues to work: this guy's redoubtable), and he has come up with a documentary that should prove loads of fun for anyone (like me) who already knows and loves Miller's work, as well as for neophytes ready to discover it. The guy has (and always did have) a great face. Good looking and with a great little body when he was younger, Miller was also such a solid, professional and talented actor that he could (and did) play every kind of role well -- from comics to heavies, bit parts to big parts to even playing the occasional leading man.

Watching the terrific assortment of clips from many of Miller's movies should make you want to see (and even re-see) them, so funny and juicy and miniscule-budget are so many of them. (One of my favorites is Not of This Earth, which has perhaps the silliest space-alien monster in the history of films (I know, I know: the competition is fierce).

Drenner's movie alternates interviews (lots of 'em) with animation, archival footage and film clips to demonstrate his appreciation of and love for the Miller oeuvre. One of the most talked-about of these is Roger Corman's Bucket of Blood, but there are so many more that resonate, too. We hear all about the filming of various of these, especially The Terror, starring early Jack Nicholson along with late-period Boris Karloff -- the latter of whom, after completing one of Corman's low-budget, finish-'em-fast films, still owed the director three more days of work, so Corman built an entire nonsensical horror film around the actor. Hearing and seeing some of it here, complete with tell-all reminiscences is one crazy delight.

As many clips as we see from the 1950s through the 90s (the prime of Mr. Miller), we also spend a lot of time with him and his wife in present day (or nearly -- shown below) and hear what he feels and thinks about various topics. ("Today's actors are nice guys -- but they're not giants," he notes.)

We learn about Miller's love of portraiture (or maybe caricature). When he was a boy, Disney's people came to call, and he thought they wanted to hire him as an artist. When they told him, no, but as a child actor instead, he simply said, No thanks. A guy who evidently always went his own way, Miller is a man who might have been a much bigger star, had he played the game a little more typically. But then he wouldn't be Dick Miller.

We learn a lot about a later Corman-helmed venture, New World Pictures, that helped start directorial careers of quite a few semi-famous names, from Allan Arkush (above) to Joe Dante (front and center, below) to Paul Bartel, as well as hear from some of the New World acting stable like Mary Woronov.

We also learn the importance of the name and character, Walter Paisley and a certain pink jacket, and see our guy in classics like Little Shop of Horrors (originally titled The Passionate People Eater), The Howling and -- ah, yes -- Gremlins, with stops at movies that ought to have been better seen, such as Matinee (below, with Miller shown between John Sayles and John Goodman) and Explorers.

All told, this is one fine trip down memory lane, featuring a look at and appreciation of an actor who is clearly one-of-a-kind and memorably so. Thanks to Anthology Film Archives, That Guy Dick Miller -- distributed by IndieCan Entertainment, Canada, and running 91 minutes -- will be getting more than a week's run here in New York City, with Mr Miller in attendance with wife, Lainie, who will be here in person for opening weekend, Friday & Saturday, April 3 & 4. The opening night screening on Friday, April 3 will be hosted and moderated by Michael Gingold of Fangoria magazine, while director Elijah Drenner will present the screenings on Sunday & Monday, April 5 & 6. Click here for tickets/directions.

You will also be able to see some of these "classic" films, as AFA has scheduled quite the mini-festival of Miller's oeuvre. Here's the complete schedule, complete with AFA's comments regarding the films:

Roger Corman (shown above)
A BUCKET OF BLOOD
1959, 66 min, 35mm, b&w
In his most famous (and regrettably one of his very few) starring roles, Miller shines as Walter Paisley, an aspiring beatnik who stumbles on art-world success when he accidentally kills his landlady’s cat and, on a whim, covers it in clay. After passing the result off as a genuine sculpture he’s proclaimed an artistic genius. But soon he finds himself pursuing increasingly desperate and horrific means to produce new sculptures and maintain his artistic glory. A BUCKET OF BLOOD is an ingenious satire of counter-cultural pretension, and among the highpoints of Corman and Miller’s careers. Plus: Agnieszka Kurant THE CUTAWAYS 2013, 24 min, digital CUTAWAYS focuses on characters who ended up on the cutting-room floor. Produced in collaboration with the renowned film editor, Walter Murch, and starring Dick Miller, Charlotte Rampling, and Abe Vigoda in their original roles from PULP FICTION, VANISHING POINT and THE CONVERSATION, respectively, it stages a meeting of these phantom characters. –Fri, April 3 at 9:15 and Wed, April 8 at 9:00. DICK & LAINIE MILLER IN PERSON ON FRI, APRIL 3!

Roger Corman
SORORITY GIRL
1957, 61 min, 16mm, b&w
One of the earliest films in both Corman’s and Dick Miller’s filmographies, SORORITY GIRL is a scathingly brutal cheapie that traces the downward spiral of spoiled, sociopathic rich girl Sabra (Susan Cabot). Schooled in emotional stuntedness and inhumanity by her haughty, hateful mother, she wreaks havoc on her fellow sorority members at the University of Southern California, shamelessly exploiting and persecuting them. Typically for Corman, what would have been a cynical exploitation film in almost anyone else’s hands is, despite the conditions of its production, a blunt but remarkably perceptive portrait of a sociopath – though there’s bitchy fun to be had too! –Sat, April 4 at 5:00 and Sat, April 11 at 7:30. DICK & LAINIE MILLER IN PERSON ON SAT, APRIL 4!

GREMLINS CAST REUNION ON SAT, APRIL 4!
Joe Dante
GREMLINS
1984, 106 min, 35mm. With Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Corey Feldman, and Dick Miller.
Joe Dante’s GREMLINS was produced by Spielberg and became a huge hit, but it’s no E.T. True, its ‘hero,’ Gizmo the mogwai, is an adorable, wide-eyed, furry little creature of unknown origins (by way of Chinatown). But, given as a gift to our human protagonist Billy (Zach Galligan), Gizmo comes along with three rules: never expose it to bright light, never get it wet, and never, EVER feed it after midnight. Needless to say, rules (especially in horror movies) are made to be broken, and soon the placid town of Kingston Falls is overrun with murderous, anarchic, and not at all furry Gremlins, who lay a path of destruction which Dante delights in portraying. A bona fide 1980s popcorn-movie classic whose mischievous spirit and Looney Tunes-inspired havoc remain fresh thirty years later, GREMLINS is also graced with one of the best latter-day performances by Dick Miller, as Billy’s Gremlins-menaced neighbor Mr. Futterman. –Sat, April 4 at 9:15 and Fri, April 10 at 7:00. Join us on Sat, April 4 at 9:15 for an historic occasion: GREMLINS cast members Dick Miller, Zach Galligan, and Phoebe Cates will be here in person to present the screening! 

Roger Corman
WAR OF THE SATELLITES
1958, 66 min, 16mm, b&w
WAR OF THE SATELLITES attempts Kubrickian themes on a Bowery Boys budget. As humans prepare to leave their planet, an advanced alien race sends down an agent to replace the mild-mannered scientist in charge of the space project. Once again, rebellious youth saves the day, as the professor’s assistant (the irrepressible Dick Miller) sees through the deception and takes matters into his own hands. What differentiates Mr. Corman from more dedicated schlockmeisters like William Castle and Jess Franco is his almost unshakable sobriety. He seldom falls back on making fun of his material, preferring instead to play by the rules and with a straight face.” –Dave Kehr, NEW YORK TIMES –Sun, April 5 at 5:15 and Sat, April 11 at 9:00.


Joe Dante
GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH
1990, 106 min, 35mm.
With Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Corey Feldman, and Dick Miller.
Rare is a sequel that bests the original, but GREMLINS 2 manages to outsmart and undermine its blockbuster predecessor a hundred times over. A parable for our times (circa 1990), this improbable tale takes place in the towering Manhattan super-building of Clamp Enterprises, where poor furry Gizmo is being used as a guinea pig by gonzo billionaire Daniel Clamp (played with a Donald Trump-like zeal by the rubbery John Glover). Next thing you know Gizmo gets wet and, well, hell breaks loose. Luckily his pals Billy (Zach Galligan), Katie (Phoebe Cates) and Murray (Dick Miller, natch) are there to help save him and New York from the whacked-out antics of the deplorable, deadly Gremlins. Simultaneously a tribute to the great sight gags of Frank Tashlin and a riotous parody of disaster movies in the Irwin Allen mold, this great meta-film is 100% Joe Dante. –Sun, April 5 at 9:15 and Fri, April 10 at 9:15.

 Joe Dante & Allan Arkush
HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD
1976, 83 min, 35mm.
Print courtesy of the Joe Dante and Jon Davison Collection at the Academy Film Archive.
The directorial debut of both Joe Dante (THE HOWLING, GREMLINS) and Allan Arkush (ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL), this deliriously entertaining pastiche of exploitation film tropes was the result of a bet between producer Jon Davison and Roger Corman that Davison could make the cheapest film yet created for Corman’s New World Pictures. Dante and Arkush pulled off this impressive feat by shooting on leftover short ends of raw stock and by freely incorporating footage from previous New World films, including NIGHT CALL NURSES, BIG BAD MAMA, and DEATH RACE 2000. Amongst its many references and homages to drive-in cinema classics, it includes a cameo by Dick Miller reprising his role as BUCKET OF BLOOD’s Walter Paisley! –Mon, April 6 at 9:00, Thurs, April 9 at 9:00, and Sun, April 12 at 7:00.


Joe Dante
THE HOWLING
1981, 91 min, 35mm. With Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Kevin McCarthy, John Carradine, and Slim Pickens.
A popular Los Angeles TV reporter is given doctor’s orders to visit a remote consciousness-raising retreat called ‘The Colony’ after a traumatic incident with a serial killer. The bizarre behavior of the residents begins to make sense once the reporter discovers that she is staying amidst a community of werewolves! THE HOWLING is not only a great werewolf movie, but also a witty and knowing commentary on the genre itself. The film is as full of impressive werewolf transformation scenes as of social satire, which is no surprise given that the special effects were done by Rob Bottin (THE THING) and the screenplay was written by John Sayles.” –THE WEXNER CENTER –Tues, April 7 at 9:00 and Sun, April 12 at 9:00. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

César-winning animation from France: Omond and Solotareff's WOLFY: The Incredible Secret


Want to see what award-winning French animation looks like? Then, for your own interest -- not to mention that of your pre-teen kids or grandkids --  take a look at WOLFY: THE INCREDIBLE SECRET (Loulou, l'incroyable secret), a film out just now on DVD, digital and VOD, that makes a nice low-key change from some of the multi-multi-million-dollar, uber-flashy animated stuff out of Hollywood. This one's got a lot of charm and creativity going for it, along with off-kilter animation that's fun to view.

I have to admit that my just-turning 10-year-old granddaughter left the room around halfway along, but my just-turning-seven grandson couldn't get enough of the film and pronounced it "really good" and one that he intended to view again. (I suspect that if the leading character, Wolfy, has been female rather than male, my grandkids' interest level would have reversed.) For my part, I found it enjoyable to sit back and watch the work of filmmakers Eric Omond (show above at extreme right) and Grégoire Solotareff, (shown standing, center right), while observing the manner in which the younger generation reacted to the film.

The movie takes on a little oddity from its beginning, as its two main characters (and fast friends) turn out to be a rabbit and a wolf (above). There's no explanation for how this happened -- they just grew up together --  but the movie's plot (along with that :"incredible secret" of the title) has to do with the "history" of Wolfy and his family, and exactly what kind of a wolf he really is.

Due to an bizarrely arranged meeting between wolf, rabbit and a strange bird that morphs into a fortune teller (above), our two friends set off on an adventure to a far-away kingdom where Wolfy's "family" resides.

What makes the movie fun for both generations is the animators' take on various animals and how they play into the tale. Everything from wolves to hedgehogs, moles, cats, dogs and more have their chance to shine (or not). The animation itself is flat line with wonderful colors and a lot of imagination given over to odd angles and charming exaggeration (note the rabbit's ears, just above and three photos above).

Though the threat of harm befalling our heroes is ever-present, this is not a deal-breaker (only once did my grandson scoot over closer to me on the couch at a particularly exciting moment: "You getting scared?" I asked, and he nodded, yes).  Instead the movie mostly keeps its thrills in check to its charms.

There are fine chases (one in the car, above, another throughout the castle), a odd kind of "love" interest (the femme fatale/fashionista fox, below), a reunion with someone long missing, and a budding romance.

Mostly, though, there's that economical animation -- full of smart and clever moments and scenic set-pieces. With a running time of only 80 minutes, Wolfy: The Incredible Secret -- relatively swift and very colorful -- should capture the attention of kids, while leaving their parents in pretty good spirits, too.

The film -- dubbed in English by an OK voice cast, so those kids don't have to read subtitles -- is available now from Random Media & Cinedigm -- on DVD, VOD and via Digital Media.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Fernando Coimbra's WOLF AT THE DOOR is a kidnapping tale that proves to be so much more


It begins with the disappearance of a young child from her local school -- enough to set any parent on edge and gasping. Clearly a set-up job, the kidnapping is of course something the police aim to learn more about swiftly and surely. From this perhaps less-than-original beginning, WOLF AT THE DOOR (O Lobo atrás da Porta is its Portuguese title), the new Brazilian film from Fernando Coimbra shifts instead to a tale of infidelity and obsession rather than the kidnap thriller we might expect. This proves all for the best because what we get is a shockingly intimate tale of narcissists in love and lust. Be prepared for a genuine dose of Fatal Attraction, rather than the crap we got from that ludicrous happy-ending movie of 1987.

One of the amazements of Coimbra's movie (the filmmaker is shown at right) is how everything -- along with our reactions to this -- changes so dramatically from what we imagine as the film's first few scenes fly by to what we're left with at its conclusion. It is safe to say that few films on this subject have been more effective -- or more disturbing. Although we initially respond as expected to the idea of a child being kidnapped, we soon find ourselves more interested in the film's three leading characters, the kidnapped girl's mother and father, and the pretty young woman who manages to come into the family, as well as between the parents.

Said to be (as is every third movie these days) based upon real events, Wolf at the Door -- as brilliantly written and directed by Coimbra, is so thoroughly attuned to the vagaries of lust and infidelity, as well as to the needs of an obsessive, narcissistic woman (and to those of her equally self-involved paramour) that we come to understand these people (the somewhat clueless, and also self-involved wife is the third wheel here) so very well that we race along with the movie, full steam ahead, until its unbearable yet utterly appropriate climax and denouement.

It is not that we can't or don't care for the child in question (a sweet Isabelle Ribas, two photos above). But in comparison to our understanding of the other three characters, we barely know the kid at all. This is a very smart, if risky, move on the filmmaker's part. But it pays spectacular dividends -- while raising, along the way, subjects such as the male prerogative and Brazilian police brutality.

The three leads are played spectacularly well by Milhem Cortaz (shown two photos above, as the husband), Fabiula Nascimento (above, as the wife), and especially by Leandra Leal (below, as the other woman). Ms Leal plays the character we come to understand best, and she gives a performance that would win every award in the book -- fierce, intelligent and so far beyond desperate and sad that there's hardly an apt compari-son -- were Brazilian movies seen more often throughout the world.

Coimbra's movie is very well thought-out and executed, with events such as the appearance of a gun brought to fruition in a manner that even Chekov might admire. Told mostly from the time of the kidnapping, then flashing back and pushing forward for the finale, everything clicks into place without seeming at all forced or mechanical. This is due to the filmmaker's and his cast's concentration of character above all. It pays off handsomely, horribly, memorably.

Wolf at the Door -- from Outsider Pictures and running 100 minutes -- opens tomorrow, Friday, March 27, in New York (the Village East Cinema) and Los Angeles (Laemmle's Music Hall 3) and in Columbus, Ohio (the Gateway Film Center) on April 24.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Dave Boyle's sun-kissed noir, MAN FROM RENO, shows us creativity put to dire and dreadful uses


What an odd one is MAN FROM RENO, the new film from Dave Boyle, and the first of his work that TrustMovies has seen. A sort of sun-dappled neo-noir in which our heroine, Aki, a Japanese writer of an internationally famous detective novel,  comes to San Francisco and gets embroiled in the kind of mystery that, initially at least, seems like an Asian example of a Nancy Drew tale (at one point  the California sheriff who's also investigating the case, refers to Aki as exactly that). The movie begins in one of those thick Frisco fogs, during which a car hits a pedestrian, and a mystery unravels.

In Boyle's movie, we begin by tracking both Aki (Ayako Fujitani, above) and that sheriff (Pepe Serna, below, right) as they work independently on things that will eventually flow into a single case that grows more bizarre (what's in the toilet) and deadly (after awhile the bodies start piling up).

There is also one hell of a major villain to contend with -- one who proves a complete sociopath without even a hint of caring or remorse.

One of Mr. Boyle's finest achievements (the filmmaker is shown at left) here may lie in making us imagine that all this is much more fun than it is dangerous, then pulling the rug out from under both his characters and us. He plays deftly and rather charmingly with movie conventions and characterizations until, somewhat in the same manner that effects our poor Aki, we're shocked, trapped and unable -- even unwilling -- to believe what just happened. And that's all I'm willing to say about plot machinations.

The filmmaker -- who both directed and co-wrote the film (with help from regular collaborators Joel Clark and Michael Lerman) -- evidently enjoys creating stories in films that make use of both American and Japanese actors in an American setting. More power to him -- especially if those films are as interesting and unusual as this one.

The performances are, to a man and woman, low-key and believable -- which helps create the ambience necessary for the quiet shock and awe that follows. Cinematography and editing are first-rate, as well. The movie probes the uses of creativity toward ends both good and evil, and in the process tackles the subject of plagiarism, as well.

It is great to see again Mr. Cerna (above), one of our favorites from back in the 1970s and 80s, and in a leading role, this time. Ms Fujitani is smart and lovely as Aki, and a special word must be said for Kazuki Kitamura (three photos above and just below), one gorgeous hunk who proves to be a lot more, too.

Man From Reno -- a certifiable original distributed by First Pond Entertainment and running a surprisingly fleet 111 minutes -- opens tomorrow, Friday, March 27, in New York City at the Regal E-Walk theater, and in the greater Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Playhouse 7 and Royal. In the weeks to come it will hit another dozen locations, on the dates, in the cities, and at the theaters listed below:
April 3 - Torrance, CA - AMC Rolling Hills 20 
April 3 - Irvine, CA - Edwards University Town Center 6 
April 10 - San Francisco, CA - Sundance Kabuki Theatre 
April 17 - Washington D.C. - Angelika Theatre 
April 17 - Chicago, IL - Facets  
April 17 - Portland, OR - Regal Fox Tower 10 
April 24 - Honolulu, HI - The Angelika 
April 24 - San Diego, CA - Digital Gym 
April 30 - Seattle, WA - Northwest Film Forum 
May 1 - Lowell, MA - The Luna Theatre  
May 8 -  Amherst, NY - The Screening Room 
May 22 - Columbus, OH - Gateway Film Center

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Noah Baumbach's WHILE WE'RE YOUNG: Brooklyn's hipsters and oldsters mix it up


The generation gap looms over Noah Baumbach's new film, WHILE WE'RE YOUNG, and this provides an opportunity for quite a few laughs, as well as the chance to look at attitudes -- moral and otherwise -- that would seem to reflect those generations. But, as usual in the work of Mr. Baumbach, there is even more going on. The surface is shiny and bright, underneath is not so, and all of it is intelli-gent and entertaining. His latest film is also his most completely successful since Greenberg and/or The Squid and the Whale. Even if this writer /director's hand is still a tad too heavy at times.

Mr. Baumbach, pictured at right, is generally considered, pace Armond White, to be one of the brightest of our intellectual filmmakers, and so it is again. His film offers a lot of what they used to call "sparkling dialog," even if -- in this case, the sparkle is a little different -- rough and naughty -- from what it might have sounded like when that phrase was first born.

The story here is of  two couples -- one in its 40s, the other in its 20s -- and how they meet and become close in present-day Brooklyn. Their connection is the documentary format: the older man is a filmmaker; the younger one wants to be. The wives (or "significant other" for the younger) are, as is so often the case, more accessories than anything else.

Within this set-up and follow-through, we learn a lot about who these people really are and why. We also explore documentary filmmaking (the older wife's dad is a leading exponent of this form -- think Wiseman or the late Mr. Maysles -- and he is played quietly and magnificently by Charles Grodin (above, right).

The older couple are brought fine life by Naomi Watts (above, right) and Ben Stiller (above and further above, left), both of whom shine in their roles -- she by once again demonstrating that there is little she cannot do regarding character change as an actress, while still looking as lovely and appealing as ever; he by using his gift for uncertainty, repressed anger and a kind of all-over sorrow that combine into something quite funny.

The younger couple is played by the ubiquitous and versatile Adam Driver (above, left) and a somewhat wasted Amanda Seyfried (above, right: either the filmmaker did not warm to the actress, or he simply didn't know how best to create an interesting character for her). Though the elder couple has its own share of "entitlement" going, it is definitely the younger pair that brings this idea to new -- and ironically low -- heights.

Rather than spoil the one terrific plot twist, TrustMovies will just say that this "event" opens up the film to all sorts of interesting ideas on the documentary form: what it means, how it works and what it should do or not do. And especially what, where and how "truth" figures into things. It also allows for one of those dearly loved last-minute arrival scenes favored by filmmakers of the thriller and rom-com varieties, of which While We're Young is neither, though it steals from both now and again. I just wish that, in driving home his points about what constitutes truth and good filmmaking, he'd held back a bit more with the sledge-hammer.

While also tackling the idea of "forced parenting" (below) and fear-of-nepotism, Baumbach has a couple of endings to his film, too. I'd prefer that he'd used only the first of these -- which has a magnificent "last line" and would have been near-perfect.  Instead, he continues past this and into the more feel-good realm, supplying us with another joke or two, visual and verbal, which are, I must admit, fun. As is most of this movie.

The film -- from A24 and running 97 smart minutes -- opens this Friday, March 27, in New York City at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13, and the Regal Union Square Stadium 14 and in the Los Angeles area at The Landmark and the Arclight Hollywood.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Kornél Mundruczó's amazing, troubling WHITE GOD: like no canine movie you'll have ever seen


Old Yeller was never like this. Kornél Mundruczó's Hungarian masterpiece, WHITE GOD, (Fehér isten) will leave you in some kind of state -- grace, shock, awe, or maybe just amazed at the proficiency of this filmmaker, the only other work of whose I've seen is the odd, and oddly memorable, Delta from 2008. I believe it is safe to say that there has never been a "dog movie" anything like this one -- which within (or, hell, without, too) its genre, also becomes a revenge thriller, an allegory about "the other," ode to "dumb" animals, sci-fi/fantasy epic and more. It jumps so many genres so thoroughly that it simply becomes sui generis.
And then some.

Directed and co-written (with Viktória Petrányi and Kata Wéber) by Mr. Mundruczó (shown at right), the film begins with a scene of marvel -- and one that does not look particularly CGI-ed. I can't claim to be any expert on special effects, but when they look as real, as genuine and "special" as they do here, attention must be paid.

The film then flashes backward to a previous time, in which its story carefully unfolds, before eventually catching up with itself. We've seen this done many times before. What we have not seen is all this taking place in what can best be called a "dog movie."

That dog -- a character called Hagen (he is actually played by two dogs - one of whom is shown at left, sporting a bowtie at Cannes, where he was evidently the toast of the festival) -- is a keeper. You'll fall in love with him instantly, but be warned: What happens to Hagen is not easy to bear. Dog lovers won't want to miss this movie, but they may have a damned difficult time getting through it.

Hagen is the beloved pet of a high school girl named Lili (talented and beautiful newcomer Zsófia Psotta), about to spend three months with her estranged father due to her mom's having to go abroad for work. Dad is not much of a caretaker, and he most definitely does not like dogs. Trouble ahead.

The movie will make you wonder if Hungary, the country from which it comes, is particularly anti-canine. Or if perhaps this goes with the territory of most of Eastern Europe. From what we see here, much of the populace couldn't care less about the creatures -- who are, evidently, not considered the Eastern European man's best friend -- unless he can make a killing off them, in the process perhaps killing the animal itself.

A large section of this film deals with what happens when Hagen comes into contact with a man who trains dog for fighting. This is by far the most difficult portion to watch, and yet it is also one of the film's strongest, calling into question the old nature/nurture theory once again.

Parenting is another major theme, as is coming-of-age, and to its credit, Mundruczó's movie doesn't shy away from the difficulties here, either. What make it work so well is how all these themes -- including that of the unwanted, the "other" -- are so thoroughly fused that you finally cannot (nor would want to) separate them.

Music and its uses are paramount, as well, bringing to mind again those "charms to soothe the savage breast." The finale -- fierce, rich, suspenseful, emotional -- is both monumental and mysterious. I suspect this is a scene you will never forget.

White God (even that title is loaded and mysterious), one of the finest films Magnolia Pictures has yet released, recently screened as part of the New Directors/New Films series, opens theatrically this Friday, March 27, across Canada and in New York City at the IFC Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema. The Friday following it hits six more cities, including Los Angeles (at the Landmark NuArt) and then makes its way across the country in the weeks and months to follow. You can see all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters, by clicking here.