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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, August 23, 2014

 
Saturday Night at the Movies



Dog days and ragnaroks, meaningless nouns



by Dennis Hartley

And all he got was this stupid T-shirt: The Dog









On a sultry August afternoon back in 1972, a botched Brooklyn bank robbery morphed into a tense hostage drama that played out on live TV; and once rumors began to circulate that the ringleader, a Vietnam vet named John Wojtowicz, had engineered the heist in a desperate attempt to raise funds for his lover’s sex reassignment surgery, it became a full-blown media circus. Wojtowicz’s accomplice didn’t survive the day (he was shot dead by FBI agents) and he earned a 5 year-long stretch in the pen for his troubles. The incident inspired Sidney Lumet’s classic 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon. Al Pacino’s iconic turn as Wojtowicz added shelf life to the robber-turned folk hero's initial 15 minutes of fame.


Of course, Hollywood rarely gets it 100% right, even with stories purported to be “ripped from the headlines”. In a new documentary from co-directors Alison Berg and Frank Keraudren called The Dog, none other than John Wojtowicz himself appears onscreen to set the record straight. The first thing he wants us to know is that he’s “a pervert.” Okay then. But it’s also important for us to understand that he is “a lover” as well, because after all, in his lifetime he has had “4 wives, and 23 girlfriends.” Are we supposed to be taking notes? Many unexpected twists and turns ensue. While it’s well established from the get-go that Wojtowicz (who died in 2006) was a riotously profane, unexpectedly engaging (if deeply weird) raconteur…he is not the only star of this show. The scene-stealer? His dear (late) mother, who insists that “half of what (John) says is bullshit.” She’s probably right.


Nonetheless, this is an absorbing film (a decade in the making) that works on multiple levels. It can be viewed as a “true crime” documentary, a social history (there are surprising tie-ins with NYC's early 70s gay activist scene), a meditation on America's peculiar fetish with fame whores, or (on a purely popcorn level) as a perversely compelling family freak show along the lines of Grey Gardens or Crumb. I’m giving it a three out of four “Atticas” rating: “Attica! Attica! Attica!” (Currently available on PPV).

Move over, Smaug: Ragnarok



              







According to my exhaustive research on Norse mythology (OK...one-clicking to Wikipedia), "Ragnarok" was the Viking version of Armageddon; referring to a prophecy of apocalyptic events that will culminate in a worldwide flood, following which all will begin anew (this is not to be confused with "Raga-rock", a subgenre of wild hippie music that Grandpa used to dig listening to in his headphones after doing a hit of Windowpane).
In the context of Norwegian director Mikkel Braenne Sandemose's eponymous new film, it's a major concern to a harried, recently defunded archaeologist widower (Pal Sverre Hagen) who specializes in Viking artifacts. He's been attempting to translate mysterious runes found amongst remains of an ancient shipwreck. When he and a fellow researcher (Nicolai Cleve Broch) become convinced that Ragnarok may 1) not in fact be a myth, and 2) be imminent, he grabs his (somewhat apprehensive) teen daughter and young son and heads north to an uninhabited part of Finnmark, where he and his colleague hope to find the missing pieces of the puzzle. After adding a sexy-tough love interest...I mean, assistant researcher (Sofia Helin) and a crusty guide to the team, the expedition is afoot.
While what ensues in Sandemose's film can be called out as a shamelessly derivative mash-up of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park, it’s still kind of fun, in a contentedly mindless way. Actually, amid all of the typically big, dumb, loud and over-produced action-adventure summer fare currently flooding the multiplexes, it stands out as a refreshingly old-fashioned yarn. The story clips along without unnecessary padding, most of the violence is (thankfully) off-screen, and it says everything it needs to in 94 minutes. And the best part? You don't have to stand in line or fight the crowds, because it's currently available on PPV (I'm a lazy bastard). As they say, check your local listings.


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