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‘Black Dog’ Review: Man Bites Dog, Becomes His Best Friend in Gorgeously Offbeat Canine Caper From China

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‘Black Dog’ Review: Man Bites Dog, Becomes His Best Friend in Gorgeously Offbeat Canine Caper From China

Chinese director Guan Hu’s visually stunning new feature, Black Dog, starts off with a familiar premise: After spending a decade behind bars, an ex-con named Lang (Eddie Peng) returns to his tiny native city in Northwest China on the outskirts of the Gobi Desert. He tries to integrate into regular life, but certain demons from his past come back to haunt him.

If this sounds like any number of throwaway B-movies, or like the plot of the recent Sylvester Stallone series Tulsa King, be advised that Black Dog is not that kind of thing at all. First off, it’s unclear who, exactly, the title is referring to. Is it the film’s total outcast of a protagonist, who barely utters a full sentence to anyone — including his own father — as he attempts to settle into a place that doesn’t want him? Or is it the stray black greyhound he meets in town, with whom he winds up forming a special bond?

Black Dog

The Bottom Line

Not your average pup.

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Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)
Cast: Eddie Peng, Tong Liya, Jia Zhang-ke, Zhang Yi, Zhou You
Director: Guan Hu
Screenwriters: Guan Hu, Ge Rui, Wu Bing

1 hour 46 minutes

Black Dog isn’t really a man’s-best-friend movie either, even if the relationship between Lang and his rabid mutt forms the crux of the plot. Set against a backdrop of urban blight and canine chaos, Guan’s highly original, deadpan thriller begins with a jarring sequence of dogs causing a bus to flip over on a desert road, only to get weirder and wilder from there. But at its heart, the film is really a classic story of redemption, taking lots of unexpected turns as it follows a down-and-out hero toward recovery.

The director’s previous efforts, including big-budget action flicks like Mr. Six and The Eight Hundred, are a far cry from the oddball tone and arthouse stylistics of Black Dog, which sits somewhere between the Coens’ No Country For Old Men and recent Chinese noirs like Diao Yinan’s The Wild Goose Lake. There’s some violence, but never of a particularly graphic kind, and there’s definitely some cruelty to animals. But the film is mostly about a very strange time and place, where men and dogs seem to be forever chasing each other around a desolate city on the verge of state-sponsored demolition.

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Set in 2008 during the months leading up to the Beijing Summer Olympics, the story picks up Lang — lanky, brooding and with a shaved head — after he survives the opening bus crash and wanders into town to take up residence in his childhood home. We learn that his father has moved out and lives at the local zoo, while a mob boss named Butcher Hu (played by Chinese auteur Jia Zhang-ke) is seeking revenge for the crime that put Lang in jail for a decade, details of which are divulged much later. 

The only true companion Lang makes upon his return is a mangy greyhound he runs into by one of the city’s many abandoned buildings, which is set to be destroyed in a massive urbanization plan that’s left much of the area populated by packs of stray pups. Guan makes sure to include a canine or two in nearly every shot of his movie, whether they’re silently watching the action from afar, strolling in the background, rushing through empty streets, or, in one standout stunt scene, crashing through a window.

Cinematographer Gao Weizhe’s superb widescreen images, bathed in dust and washed-out colors, constantly place Lang and his canine pal (who is never given a real name) within the vast uninhabited cityscapes and surrounding desert. With sand constantly blowing in from all sides, dogs running amok and other animals (serpents, tigers, monkeys) wandering about, it’s as if nature is taking its revenge on the forgotten town while the rest of China prepares to triumph when the Summer Olympics kick off in August.

Lang eventually reconnects with his father and manages to deal with Butcher Hu — an actual butcher who specializes in the local delicacy of snake meat — but more importantly, he winds up taking the black dog under his wing and nursing her back to health. Initially, it’s because Lang fears the greyhound gave him rabies, but their story gradually transforms into one of love at first bite. Man and hound not only get to know each other, but they start helping each other out in special ways that improve both of their lives.

Hollywood seems to put out a new mainstream dog flick every few months — the latest example being the Mark Wahlberg starrer, Arthur the King — but there’s also a subgenre of international films that treat canines with more depth and artistry. Guan’s strange and seductive new work belongs to the latter pack, joining other movies that have premiered in Cannes over the past decade, such as last year’s Palme d’Or and Oscar winner Anatomy of a Fall, where dogs become a pivotal feature of the plot.

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While Black Dog didn’t walk away with Cannes’ cheeky Palme Dog prize for films of that category (it went to French actress-director Laetitia Dosch’s Dog on Trial), it did scoop up a well-deserved Prix Un Certain Regard — no small feat in a sidebar that many believed outshined this year’s main competition. This should give Guan’s latest some traction beyond China, where he has already proved his bona fides as a major commercial filmmaker (The Eight Hundred grossed a whopping $460 million), and now proves he’s capable of making something both out-of-the-box and oddly captivating.

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Movie Reviews

Chandu Champion first reviews: Kartik Aaryan's film touches hearts with its gripping storyline | Hindi Movie News – Times of India

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Chandu Champion first reviews: Kartik Aaryan's film touches hearts with its gripping storyline | Hindi Movie News – Times of India
Chandu Champion’, the sports drama that marks Kartik Aaryan‘s debut collaboration with Kabir Khan, is scheduled to release in theaters on June 14. The film is inspired by the life of Murlikant Petkar, India’s first Paralympics gold medallist.
The first review for the film has come from the people who watched the film at the special screening hosted by Kabir Khan.Those who have watched it have shared their verdict on social media. While Sumit Kadel called ‘Chandu Champion’ one of the finest films of 2024, Siddharth Kannan wrote, “It would be an understatement to call this @TheAaryanKartik ‘s best performance. Just like #MurlikantPetkar ji, he has risen over all odds and has made an indelible mark with his performance in the film.”
Sumit Kadel took to X and wrote, “#ChanduChampion is one of the finest films of 2024. It is a sports drama done right, telling the remarkable and legendary life of Murlikant Petkar. Director Kabir Khan narrates his story with great skill, research and most importantly honesty without going overboard. The movie explores every chapter of Murlikant Petkar’s life, which is full of heroism, valor, and courage. We see his journey from his village to joining the army, becoming a world-class boxer, struggling with his injuries, and finally achieving success at the Paralympics. His story is extremely inspiring, emotional, and powerful. #KartikAaryan delivers his best performance in this film. His body transformation is extraordinary, and he looks like a real athlete throughout. More than his physical transformation, Kartik’s emotional performance is what truly stands out. There are many scenes in the film where his acting will make you cry. He is sure to be a contender for the best actor award this year. #VijayRaaz lent strong support and the child who played Kartik’s Young version is brilliant. The first half of the film is excellent, while the second half is a bit slow and stretched at times. However, the last 20 minutes make up for these shortcomings. The major highlights of Chandu Champion are the boxing matches and the fantastic war scenes just before the interval. Overall Chandu Champion is a very honest film with a beautiful story, direction, screenplay, and many inspirational moments. Kudos to producer Sajid Nadiadwala for giving the film the scale and grandeur it deserves.”

On the other hand, Siddharth Kannan wrote, “#ChanduChampion… It would be an understatement to call this @TheAaryanKartik’s best performance. Just like #MurlikantPetkar ji, he has risen over all odds and has made an indelible mark with his performance in the film. #VijayRaaz, Nobody could have been a better mentor than you in the film for apna Murli. #KabirKhan packs a punch with yet another blockbuster. #Kartik, you have shut down all those who you would have once said, #HastaKaykoHai?”

Ramesh Bala tweeted, “#ChanduChampion Review : Kabir Khan is back in full form with this film. Emotions, actions, drama, relationships, motivation and unexpectedly killer performances. The film sticks to your mind. Kartik Aaryan deserves a standing ovation. Extremely watchable movie 🍿 full Paisa vasool.”

While seeing the movie, a few audience members who were invited to the private screening were also seen crying. Sharing the video of the same on Instagram, Kartik wrote, “First screening of Chandu Champion with the Man himself. An evening filled with honor, joy and tears with THE REAL CHAMPION. The Man who refused to surrender MR MURLIKANT PETKAR.”
The Kabir Khan film is based on the life and events of Petkar, the first Paralympian gold medallist, who bravely confronted every hurdle life threw at him. The titular role is essayed by Kartik Aaryan.

Kartik Aaryan’s Most Candid Interview On Chandu Champion: I Am Manifesting A Lot And That’s Why These Roles Are Coming My Way

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Arcadian (2024) – Movie Review

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Arcadian (2024) – Movie Review

Arcadian, 2024.

Directed by Benjamin Brewer.
Starring Nicolas Cage, Jaeden Martell, Maxwell Jenkins, Sadie Soverall, Samantha Coughlan, and Joel Gillman.

SYNOPSIS:

A father and his twin teenage sons fight to survive in a remote farmhouse at the end of the end of the world.

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Finding a human story within a post-apocalyptic creature feature is typically a creative choice to appreciate. Director Benjamin Brewer’s Arcadian (from a screenplay by Michael Nilon) has a similarly intriguing concept. It focuses on how two twin teenage boys must set aside their differences and become a more cohesive survival unit following a life-threatening injury to their father, a quieter, more restrained Nicolas Cage. Played by Jaeden Martell and Maxwell Jenkins, the boys are at odds in the expected ways; one is more mature and crafty, the other headstrong and less concerned with duties in favor of visiting a nearby farmhouse to hang around his crush (Sadie Soverall), who has also yet to see much of the leveled and decayed world beyond her home.

It’s also not necessarily an issue that the filmmakers aren’t concerned with explaining much about this apocalypse or the monsters, choosing to focus on the human element and day-to-day routines, which primarily consist of scavenging during the day and locking themselves up at night in an isolated home. The family is a tightknit trio, but even with Nicolas Cage’s calm demeanor and patience as Paul, breaking up the bickering between Joseph and Thomas, it’s made clear that they would either completely unravel without him or come together stronger than ever to protect him. 

Despite the generally compelling setup and potentially complex character dynamics, Arcadian never finds much depth within any of that. As a story, it’s going through the motions and placing the brothers in other perilous situations that come across as contrived, as if the filmmakers don’t know what else to do. Even the friendship between Thomas and Charlotte feels more like a skeleton rather than something properly fleshed out. It plays out more like an obligatory love interest subplot instead of something substantially adding to the characters and the shaky sibling dynamic.

By the time Arcadian descends into a prolonged action-packed third act against agile, prehistoric-reminiscent beasts with elongated necks, quite literally chomping at the bit to devour human flesh, there is a degree of emotional investment into these characters, albeit a lingering sensation that, much like the preceding hour, there is something off and dull about all of this. 

It also has nothing to do with the gutsy decision to sideline Nicolas Cage for a sizable portion of Arcadian; that’s a subversively clever choice, but there isn’t enough on the page for the boys to elevate the material. As for the monster design, nothing is striking or unique here. However, even if there was something aesthetically nightmarish and exciting, the presentation is drowned in darkness to cover up mid-tier CGI most likely resulting from budget constraints.  Viewers are left clinging to a human story that is disappointingly shallow and generic, especially for a time and genre that has recently seen superior offerings.

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Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/playlist

 

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Short Film Review: A Catholic Schoolgirl by Myra Angeline Soriaso

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Short Film Review: A Catholic Schoolgirl by Myra Angeline Soriaso

“Not everyone is meant for this life. It’s a huge commitment”

Myra Soriaso is a student filmmaker who found her knack for storytelling after discovering microcinema in 2018. In 2021, her first short documentary Panambi, co-created with her besties Jane and Katya, premiered internationally at Ji.hlava International Film Festival. She debuted as a fiction filmmaker in 2023 at Qcinema International Film Festival with “A Catholic Schoolgirl”, which won the QCShorts Gender Sensitivity Award.

The film begins setting the tone, with a black screen where we hear the sound of girls praying. The next shot focuses on the protagonist, Kaya, a young girl who is following the prayers of the nuns in an all-girls Catholic school, although she also seems deep in her thoughts while doing so. Another nun, Sister Agnes, works with her on her chanting, with the girl being evidently disappointed that her teacher will be leaving by the end of the semester.

Sister Agnes then introduces the girl to some other nuns, praising her singing voice and her overall performance in the school. The nuns are working in the kitchen and Kaya offers to help, with Sister Agnes showing how to slice mangoes this time. A cut finger results in a more intimate discussion, with Kaya asking about love and the lack of romance the particular path holds for those who pledge themselves to God. Sister Agnes opens up about herself in order to guide her student. One more ‘episode’ follows though.

Myra Angeline Soriaso shoots a film that deals with the concept of LGBT love within a catholic setting, in an effort to highlight both how difficult the particular path can be, and how teenagers can experience their newfound sentiments and their effort to become of the cloth. The combination works quite well, creating an atmosphere that is secretive, intimate and mysterious, with the voyeuristic aspect in particular working well in that regard.

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Considered that the short essentially deals with temptation, having a model such as Sharon Idone playing Sister Agnes definitely hits the spot, with her presence justifying what Kaya feels. The scene between the two close to the end brings the whole thing down to reality, while another one, with the jam on the report card adds a very meaningful and visually impressive metaphor about what happened, and what will probably happen in Kaya’s future.

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Lastly, that the ‘confession’ takes place in a space where another kind of confession is supposed to happen, adds a very appealing note to the movie, which is both intelligent and quite smart. Some scenes could have been handled a bit better regarding what is happening, but overall, the context here is rich and well-presented.

Ora Palencia as Kaya highlights her sentiments, eagerness, and inner turmoil in eloquent fashion, even if her role is quite laconic. Martika Ramirez Escobar captures all the aforementioned with artistry, with the voyeuristic scene being the apogee of her work. Maria Estela Paiso’s editing results in a mid-tempo that works well for the style of narrative here, allowing a full story to unfold in less than 16 minutes.

“A Catholic Schoolgirl” is another excellent short film from the Philippines, which highlights that we are bound to see even more interesting things from the country in the following years.

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