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Indie Movie Triple Feature

White God


When young Lili is forced to give up her beloved dog, Hagen, because its mixed-breed heritage is deemed ‘unfit’ by The State, she and the dog begin a dangerous journey back towards each other. At the same time, all the unwanted, unloved and so-called unfit dogs rise up under a new leader, Hagen, the one-time house pet who has learned all too well from his ‘Masters’ in his journey through the streets and animal control centers how to bite the hands that beat him. (From Magnolia’s official synopsis)

Kornél Mundruczó’s White God is a perfect meeting of arthouse aesthetics and the kind of high-concept gimmick that was employed by Byron Chudnow’s exploitation classic The Doberman Gang (1972) and its two sequels. Mundruczó is no stranger to high-concepts. Johanna (2005) was a modern, hospital-set, operatic retelling of the Joan of Arc myth/story (all of the dialogue was dubbed by singers) and Tender Son: The Frankenstein Project (2010) revisited the themes, but not the plot points of Mary Shelley’s story. White God fulfills the precedent with an extremely serious, adult treatment of a subject that would usually fit a Disney-branded family feature. Mundruczó takes care to ensure that his filmmaking is up to the unusual task. The constantly shifting vérité camerawork can be stifling (some scenes are overwhelmed by the shaky-cam aesthetic), but it does add immediacy and realism to what is a mostly impressionistic study of only vaguely anthropomorphized animals. It’s not difficult to get an audience to care about dogs – it’s our natural inclination to care about them – but Mundruczó and editor Dávid Jancsó’s ability to tell a coherent story from their point of view without the benefit of dialogue verges on awe-inspiring (Hagen’s palpable regret at hurting another dog is particularly moving).

White God is not a particularly striking achievement in screenwriting, but the simply-structured, predictable plot (there are shades of every animal-centric movie you can image – from The Incredible Journey to Hotel for Dogs, Two Brothers, and even the Planet of the Apes movies) is merely the foundation for the more stunning technical accomplishments and the characters. More specifically, Lili’s character, as her relation to the other, rather one-dimensional humans (most of whom fit roles of unreasonably antagonistic adults) is a sort of cartoon version of reality that still feels ‘truthful.’ From her angsty, early teenage point-of-view (as well as the dogs’) these people are irrationally negative. Again, in most hands, this would be a movie for children and, even with the more mature (sometimes downright vicious), artistic slant, the heavy-handed morals and narrative shortcuts tend to work. The key issue is that, at 121 minutes, the White God is overlong. Minus 20 minutes of human-based sequences – which are nicely acted, but never live up to the beautiful standard of the scenes told entirely from the dogs’ perspective (nor do they serve much of a narrative purpose beyond the end of the first act) – it may have been a unique masterpiece.

Animal lovers should note that scenes of abuse are mostly implied and that the production staff didn’t merely ensure that no dogs were not harmed during filming (anyone with more than one adult dog knows how vicious playing can appear), but used actual rescue dogs adopted from animal shelters. I’m not sure if this particular film is the best vehicle in which to sell the Hungarian public on the idea of adopting mixed breeds, however…

White God was shot using Arri Alexa digital HD cameras and is presented here in 2.40:1, 1080p video. The image is hyper-clean and smooth without losing any of the vital fine texture. In this case, the grit of the urban environments and the loads and loads of fine dog hair define ‘important’ texture. Mundruczó and cinematographer Marcell Rév push the digital HD’s low-light capabilities pretty far in some cases, which creates some problems with black level pooling, banding effects, and notable levels of noise/grain. However, none of these appear to be issues with compression or authoring. The palette tends to be understated and is often re-calibrated with either a yellow (daylight and darker interiors), blue (night), or green (night in the city) tint. Hues are clean and nicely separated without any notable banding effects.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is relatively soft, but the dog-centric storytelling offers an excuse for highly cued, punchy, and directionally enhanced incidental noises. Every new sound shocks and/or interests Hagan, which sometimes overwhelms the otherwise quiet state of his universe. Asher Goldschmidt’s musical score is deliciously melodramatic and nicely paired with Franz Liszt’s classical arrangements. The big, brassy chords and bassy percussion give the LFE plenty to do. Music plays a role in the ambient mixing as well, since Lili attends musical lessons at school and mopes it up at a noisy nightclub. These scenes are, next to the multi-dog moments (so much barking!), the most aurally lively.

Extras include:
  • Behind The Scenes Of White God (17:20, HD) – A brief, but informative look at the making of the film, including crew & crew interviews and on-set footage of (humane) animal training. It’ll certainly help allay concerns that the dogs were mistreated.
  • Interview with writer/director Kornél Mundruczó (14:40, HD)
  • Interview with animal coordinator/technical advisor Teresa Ann Miller, who has one of the two ‘Hagen’ dogs sitting next to her (4:40, HD)
  • Trailer and trailers for other Magnolia Home Entertainment releases


 Indie Movie Triple Feature

 Indie Movie Triple Feature

 Indie Movie Triple Feature

 Indie Movie Triple Feature

 Indie Movie Triple Feature



Indie Movie Triple Feature

Salvation


Jon (Mads Mikkelsen), a former Danish soldier who survived the 1864 war against Prussia and Austria, has moved to America's frontier to start a peaceful new life. It's now 1871 and Jon and his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt) welcome Jon's wife and son to the New World. Unfortunately, things go very badly, and Jon winds up doing battle with Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a brutal strongman who has the whole town in his pocket. The sheriff (Douglas Henshall) looks the other way at Delarue's random killings, and the mayor/realtor/undertaker (Jonathan Pryce) simply sees profits in all the carnage. (From IFC/Dark Sky’s official synopsis)

Director/co-writer Kristian Levring was the fourth signatory of Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg ‘Dogme 95’ filmmaking manifesto (following Trier, Vinterberg, and Søren Kragh-Jacobsen). His latest film, Salvation, is far from the Dogme 95-flavoured western that this reputation might imply. It is a highly ritualized version of a standard-issue ‘oater’ tale. The basic story revolves around an antihero trying to escape a violent past by making a new life in the frontier. His best intentions are almost immediately dashed and he soon finds himself embroiled in a horrible and seemingly inescapable situation that requires him to revert to his worst instincts. It’s not a revisionist take on the popular revenge concepts, though the utter brutality of the crimes committed is far beyond anything you’d see in a Howard Hawks or John Ford movie. The main protagonists’ Danish heritage and greedy oil company subplots frame the story in a slightly more contemporary political landscape, without really offering anything substantial.

The story gets more interesting after the initial crimes are avenged and we are introduced to the thoroughly cruel main villain, Delarue, portrayed by the always reliable Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who looks right at home in his (literally) black hat (he is effectively playing an R-rated version of Henry Fonda’s character from Once Upon a Time in the West). We’re still confined to an oft-told story that amounts to two parts High Noon, two parts Unforgiven, and one part Fistful of Dollars, but Levring clearly enjoys playing in the sandbox and blurring the lines with increasing layers of moral ambiguity and grotesque villainy. His climatic shoot-out is genuinely inventive and thrilling – possibly even the best western movie action I’ve seen since The Good, the Bad, the Weird (though the CG flames are pretty horrible). The brief length is a blessing, in that it softens the blow of the predictability by keeping things short, and a curse, in that there’s not a lot of time to get to know any of the characters beyond their most basic traits. The cast – including Morgan, Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Eric Cantona, and Jonathan Pryce – gives their best, but are somewhat wasted, especially Green, who plays a literally mute victim of circumstance.

Salvation was also shot with Arri Alexa digital HD cameras and is presented in 2.40:1, 1080p video on this Blu-ray release. The overall image is clean and tight, but Levring and cinematographer Jens Schlosser’s use of smooth gradations and extremely tight focus does create some issues. The transfer appears to have been a little over-compressed, which leads to minor edge enhancement and some notably chunky noise, and, at worst, quantization (or perhaps posterization) effects. These occasionally distracting ‘steps’ in shade is punched-up a bit due to the purposefully digital look, which includes the aforementioned smoothing and a really stylized palette. It sometimes feels like we’re looking at computer-generated actors and sets. The fact that the palette is highly stylized doesn’t exactly help, but that is an aesthetic choice, not a problematic authoring. Night sequences are practically monochromatic with only a slight blue tinge. Daylight scenes glisten with oranges, reds, and greens that are quite vivid and well-separated, despite these occasional issues. Black levels are deep and help to sharpen up some of the more elaborate textures.

Salvation is a Danish film, but, due to the Wild West setting, much of it is in English. This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack isn’t terribly busy, but has plenty of environmental ambience swishing throughout the speakers, including wind, horses trotting, bugs clicking, vultures cawing, et cetera. Standout moments pertain mostly to stormy sequences and shootouts, both of which are punched up with plenty of LFE support. Composer Kasper Winding’s vaguely ethnic musical score gives off a similar vibe to the music on HBO’s Deadwood mixed with a more romantic symphonic tone and some Spanish guitar.

Extras include:
  • Cast & crew interview with Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Douglas Henshall, Eva Green, Nanna Øland Fabricius, and co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen (45:50, HD)
  • Behind-the-scenes featurettes (7:10, HD) – Including more cast & crew interviews and footage from the set.
  • Trailer and trailers for other IFC releases


 Indie Movie Triple Feature

 Indie Movie Triple Feature

 Indie Movie Triple Feature

 Indie Movie Triple Feature

 Indie Movie Triple Feature



Indie Movie Triple Feature

What We Do in the Shadows


Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Burgh), and Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) are vampires who are finding that modern life has them struggling with the mundane – like paying rent, keeping up with the chore wheel, trying to get into nightclubs, and overcoming roommate conflicts. (From Paramount’s official synopsis)

By supplying a mockumentary glimpse at the untold lives of vampires, Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s What We Do in the Shadows takes on two tired gimmicks. In most other hands, I would call both elements red flags, but Waititi & Clement (who expanded onto the film from a 2006 short) have earned the benefit of the doubt. Both writer/directors are probably best-known as comedic actors to international audiences and the advertising materials will remind you that they collaborated on Flight of the Conchords. Waititi’s solo directing resume is quite impressive, including an Oscar-nominated short, Two Cars, One Night (2004), another vehicle for Clement’s singular talents, Eagle vs. Shark (2007), and Boy (2010), a multi-award-winning coming-of-age dramedy that went on to break box office records across New Zealand.

Waititi & Clement tend to borrow from the low-key, matter of fact, and improvisational tone that has served Christopher Guest so well since Waiting for Guffman. Like Guest’s films, What We Do in the Shadows lovingly mocks a strange subculture by painting it as completely banal. Even when gory, gross, and scary things happen, the slightly melancholic and sweet mood endures. Visually, however, the directors pool from multiple sources. Some sequences ape the Ken Burns ‘floating picture’ model, some mimic the vérité ‘gun and run’ of indie docs, while many would-be frightening scenes spoof the look of found-footage horror. Assuming that this type of thing usually works better in a sketch capacity (the animated sketch show, Robot Chicken, did something sort of similar when they mixed The Real World themes and slasher movie villains), I kept fearing that Waititi & Clement would run out of vampiric clichés to apply to the spoof model. Apparently, I underestimated the sheer quantity of rules, regulations, and popular conventions. Even though a proper plot is never established (the werewolf stuff would be the logical through-line narrative, but pops up too late in the game) and the idea is stretched a little thin, What We Do in the Shadows rarely loses its easygoing appeal.

What We Do in the Shadows was shot using Red Epic digital HD cameras and is presented here in 1.78:1, 1080p video. The clarity of the Red system leads to a mostly smooth image with tight edges and subtle textures, but the purposefully rough mockumentary style also creates issues with noise. It’s a generally dark movie (they are vampires, afterall) and the darkest moments dance with discoloured digital grain. Dual cinematographers Richard Bluck and D.J. Stipsen do a good job capturing the grimy, perpetually dusty qualities of the sets and push the digital colour timing to make a mostly desaturated and depressingly brown palette. Brick reds and burgundy elements punch things up a bit, but the bleakness of a pale vampire world is paramount.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is underwhelming, but only because it is designed to sound as if it is an actual documentary feature. The on-screen sounds and dialogue is almost exclusively centered and sometimes purposefully muffled or distorted. The more fantastical scenes (bat fights, for example) have minor directional enhancement. The eclectic and charming original music is supplied by psychedelic punk band Plan 9. While it certainly supplies the stereo/surround and LFE channels with more to do, it is mixed at relatively low levels to fit the tone of the rest of the film.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with writer/director/stars Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi
  • Behind the Shadows (17:40, HD) – A raw look behind-the-scenes of the film
  • 12 deleted/extended scenes (31:30, HD)
  • Video Extras[list]
  • Original What We Do in Shadows short film (27:30, SD) – The complete short that inspired this feature version
  • Erotic Deacon (3:30, HD) – An extended version of Deacon’s interpretive dance
  • Viago Sings (2:30, HD) – Viago performs a song
  • Vlad Paints (1:40, HD) – Vlad paints Viago
  • Vlad’s Poetry (1:10, HD) – Vlad reads from his journal
  • Jackie the Familiar[I] (5:00, HD) – An extended look at Jackie’s (Jackie van Beek) day-to-day duties
  • [I]Night Dentist (4:00, HD) – Jackie hires a dentist for Deacon
  • What Stu Does (3:40, HD) – A look at Stu’s (Stu Rutherford) bland computer science job
  • Vampire & Werewolf Dance (1:10, HD) – Footage of the film’s vampire and werewolf characters having a dance party

[*]Extended interviews with the actors in character (18:40, HD)
[*]Six promotional videos used to sell the film (6:40, HD)
[*]Poster gallery[list]

 Indie Movie Triple Feature

 Indie Movie Triple Feature

 Indie Movie Triple Feature

 Indie Movie Triple Feature

 Indie Movie Triple Feature

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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