Skip to main content

You’re such a good little nugget.

Dog
(2022)

(SPOILERS) Dog probably wouldn’t have unduly attracted my attention – throw a random rock and you’re likely to hit one of a multiplicity of heart-warming, life-affirming dog movies – but for the claim that it’s guilty of anti-woke sentiments. Which, well… one might construe it that way. It’s evidently not expressly sympathetic to woke, as its protagonist – and, one might reasonably assume, co-director and star Channing Tatum – has a very matter-of-fact, no-bullshit attitude that would be anathema to the average wokester. At the same time, announcing it as some kind of creed would be gross overstatement. It is, basically just another of a multiplicity of heart-warming, life-affirming dog movies.

And to his credit, Tatum, working from co-director and Magic Mike associate Reid Carolin’s screenplay, has refuted any partisan angling (“I’m not political… The news and political stuff, I think we’ve got to a place of real miscommunication and misunderstanding”). Even beyond that, once you get into the territory of military vs (for example, wokesters), it’s easy to reduce a narrative to them-and-us Hegelian point scoring and miss the broader picture. I don’t think Tatum and Carolin do that. Indeed, aside from the occasional scolds batted his way, Dog explicitly avoids interrogating the rights or wrongs of current and recent US military endeavours while addressing their fall out on those involved. Including their pets.

The are other reasons to suppose the idea that Tatum may be taking shots at prescribed wokeness may be premature. He is, after all, a co-star in the 100% synthetic The Lost City, which carries the same unreal sheen we’ve seen of late in the likes of Red Notice and Death on the Nile. Elsewhere, on the conspirasphere front, it’s been suggested his Hollywood royalty co-stars (both among Hollywood’s elite inverted) are about as present and correct as Guantanamo Hanks in his last few pictures; The Lost City’s Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock are clones or AIs, and the latter is never to be seen in public again (at least, the real version). Neither have looked very tangible for a while now, of course, with Bullock boasting a photshop sheen and Pitt’s features being overtly adjusted as far back as Allied. The director of which is currently rustling up the next creepy Guantanamo Hanks movie (he was also responsible for youthful elixir movie Death Becomes Her). Whether or not Janine’s reading is remotely accurate – she also suggests the Tatum we’re seeing there could be a fake and that the real deal is facing justice, and one would have to assume the imminent Pitt-Bullock starrer Bullet Train is similarly composed, and, er… imminent Pitt-starrer Babylon – the rise in plastic pictures is undeniable. Besides, I’m all for taking a break from the dystopian programming and considering more rewarding potentialities, even if Janine's track record is variable to say the least; witness her recent suggestion that Rod bleedin' Hull is still alive in a secret location (Rod fell off his bloody roof in 1999).

AI/clone Tatum’s medically retired Army Ranger Jackson Briggs is stuck serving fast food to rude customers (“Yo, are you high? I said peppers, not cucumbers”), and unsuccessfully attempting to secure a job from a private contractor (in “diplomatic security”). Admittedly, he has a rather picturesque log cabin in the woods, but he wants what he knows, and just as you’re assuming his captain, in refusing to approve his brain-damaged ass for service, has laudable standards, he agrees: if Briggs will take a military dog cross country to Arizona to attend his handler’s funeral (charitably, I’d like to think the captain knew, Yoda-like, the experience would change Briggs, rather than dismissing him simply as cheap and opportunistic). After which, she will be put down.

Inevitably, Lulu and Briggs bond through trials and tribulations, their shared conditions providing common ground (“She’s got every combat trigger in the book”). Along the way, the picture raises the spectre of armed forces experiences being innately antithetical to both physical and mental health – the dog’s former handler committed suicide, driving his car into a tree – and it’s easy to see the disposable attitude to Lulu transposed to the human complement. It’s also emphasised that Briggs is far from a model of rectitude in terms of ingrained attitudes and outlook.

The rebuffs a flirtatious Briggs receives ensue from an express desire to go out and get laid; he’s not quite an unreconstituted jock-bro, but he’s in that sphere – and any observations on the global paradigm have to be balanced against that imperative (hence waffling about saving ducks from black goo, not that black goo, to a prospective conquest). There’s nothing woke per se about being dubious of military deployment at the behest of unsavoury interests (a pawn for big oil). On the other hand, Briggs being outright labelled a toxic male is woke to the max (“It’s just a little hard for me to get behind the toxic masculinity, you know”).

Briggs’ horn-dog momentum also leads to an encounter with two women – who clearly aren’t wokesters – keen to do some heavy-duty chakra clearing. However, this in turn results in his altercation with an “animal rights activist” – or concerned citizen – yelling “Animals are people too!” and accusing Briggs of being a redneck asshole for leaving his dog in the back of his car (this being while he attempts to get some hot chakra action). This has also been cited as an example of anti-woke sentiment, but really, it’s weak sauce, if that’s the ammunition. The guy is evidently a straight-up moron, as no one genuinely believing animals are people would hurl a brick through a window endangering said person. Elsewhere, the Muslim guy Lulu attacks (is trained to attack on the basis of apparel, it seems) is expressly shown to be an extremely reasonable guy who doesn’t wish to press charges, so one might suggest the picture itself is forwarding the very positions it’s accused of reacting against.

Briggs also encounters several military types who are less than stunning examples of the services, from the sentry at the base gate (“Think about it. What are the odds I’m ISIS?”) to Bill Burr’s cop, all conciliatory until Briggs registers the wrong tone in recognition of his army background (“Oh, you were an MP?”) The flipside to this is Ethan Suplee’s master philosopher former colleague, now spewing embarrassing nuggets of self-help (“When he stopped struggling, I realised I could stop struggling too” of his own service dog; “At the end of the day, the hardest thing is knocking on a friend’s door”; and suggesting moderation at the idea the homeless person Briggs encounters wasn’t ex-forces: “You never know in places like that who served”).

Dog is fairly rudimentary stuff, then, as are most of the attempts at comedy: Briggs not once but twice encounters hippy types who confound him rather (but if he joins in doubt with Kevin Nash’s pot grower over the latter’s wife successfully channelling Lulu’s feelings and intentions, it turns out she does appear to like a mattress, the Indian food less so). This couple are shown to be flaky but genuine and also living off-grid, which might be seen as bucking the prevailing trend.

But rather than a woke take down, basic decency and understanding appear to be the priority; that much is announced at the fast-food place at the outset. Dog offers an Eastwood-esque road trip of gentle growth, basically. Imagine The Mule but Channing is forty years younger and doesn’t pleasure a couple of eager prostitutes who never had it so good. This basic template is common, hence Pig and its more subdued, incremental learning curve (if less upbeat and more marginal for Pig). If an emphasis on honest communication and understanding, per Tatum’s soundbite, makes Dog anti-woke, it’s guilty as charged. Otherwise, this is simply a throwback to the kind of dramedy you wouldn’t have given a second thought to a couple of decades ago.


Popular posts from this blog

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

I’m just the balloon man.

Copshop (2021) (SPOILERS) A consistent problem with Joe Carnahan’s oeuvre is that, no matter how confidently his movies begin, or how strong his premise, or how adept his direction or compelling the performances he extracts, he ends up blowing it. He blows it with Copshop , a ’70s-inspired variant on Assault on Precinct 13 that is pretty damn good during the first hour, before devolving into his standard mode of sado-nihilistic mayhem.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

When we have been subtle, then can I kill him?

The Avengers 6.16. Legacy of Death There’s scarcely any crediting the Terry Nation of Noon-Doomsday as the same Terry Nation that wrote this, let alone the Terry Nation churning out a no-frills Dalek story a season for the latter stages of the Jon Pertwee era. Of course, Nation had started out as a comedy writer (for Hancock), and it may be that the kick Brian Clemens gave him up the pants in reaction to the quality of Noon-Doomsday loosened a whole load of gags. Admittedly, a lot of them are well worn, but they come so thick and fast in Legacy of Death , accompanied by an assuredly giddy pace from director Don Chaffey (of Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts ) and a fine ensemble of supporting players, that it would be churlish to complain.

Tippy-toe! Tippy-toe!

Seinfeld 2.7: The Phone Message The Premise George and Jerry both have dates on the same night. Neither goes quite as planned, and in George’s case it results in him leaving an abusive message on his girlfriend’s answerphone. The only solution is to steal the tape before she plays it. Observational Further evidence of the gaping chasm between George and Jerry’s approaches to the world. George neurotically attacks his problems and makes them worse, while Jerry shrugs and lets them go. It’s nice to see the latter’s anal qualities announcing themselves, however; he’s so bothered that his girlfriend likes a terrible TV advert that he’s mostly relieved when she breaks things off (“ To me the dialogue rings true ”). Neither Gretchen German (as Donna, Jerry’s date) nor Tory Polone (as Carol, George’s) make a huge impression, but German has more screen time and better dialogue. The main attraction is Jerry’s reactions, which include trying to impress her with hi