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News: Guest Posts
Hollywood Goes to the Dogs
So does the Roxie Theatre in San Francisco

We love seeing pups on film, especially in roles that show them woven into life in realistic ways that celebrate their positive role. And lately it seems a lot of directors agree with us. In the November issue of Bark, we preview several wonderful canine movie performances coming our way over the holiday season. From Leon the Beagle (played by four different canine actors) in We Bought a Zoo to a Jack Russell Terrier, Uggy, in The Artist, a black and white silent film from France. Uggy won the Palm Dog at the Cannes Film Festival this year.

A dog named Laika plays sidekick to an old man who befriends a young African stowaway in the French port city in Le Havre. Inca, a Siberian Husky, helps a lonely man in remote Canada find love in An Insignificant Harvey. And, finally, a Wire Fox Terrier named Snowy is brought to life by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson in the animated Adventures of Tintin, based on the famed comic book series of the same name.

The passion for canine film stars doesn’t stop there. Tomorrow, the Roxie Theatre in San Francisco hosts the BowWow Film Festival to benefit Muttville Senior Dog Rescue. Dogs are on the bill—Sniff, Pound (featuring a five-ish Robert Downey Jr.) and shorts by William Wegman—and invited to the event. The all-day party includes a dog parade, a dog show competition, DoggieVaudville and much, much more. Timmy from Lassie will be there!! So would I, if I lived in San Fran.

News: Guest Posts
Move Over James Herriot
Dr. Jan Pol’s the vet for the reality TV generation

In recent years, we’ve been hearing about a shortage of large animal veterinarians. As of last fall, nearly 1,300 counties did not have a single doctor for farm animals, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the problem was expected to get worse.

I’m thinking the unlikely television star of National Geographic Wild’s “The Incredible Dr. Pol,” might help to reverse the trend. Think of him as a sort of Dutchman-in-America-James-Herriot for the reality TV generation.

A 69-year-old small and large animal vet in private practice in Central Michigan, Dr. Jan Pol brings an engagingly cantankerous manner to his work. He can be brusque and even a little biting, especially when he teases his city-slicker son Charles, but you never doubt that he’s a truly compassionate, committed vet.

Whether he’s untwisting a cow’s stomach or yanking quills out of a hound dog’s muzzle (there are so many quills you have to wonder if the porcupine had any left), Dr. Pol gets the job done with a minimum of drama, which somehow makes for really good TV.

News: Guest Posts
The Unexpected Dog in Margin Call
Locating a heartbeat on Wall Street

I saw the new film Margin Call this weekend, a restrained, engrossing story based on Lehman Brothers’ sell-off of toxic assets, which helped precipitate the 2008 collapse. At the center of the story is Sam Rogers, a life-long Wall Streeter played by Kevin Spacey. Early in the film, we see Sam resting his head on the neck of his chocolate Labrador, who sleeps on a veterinarian’s gurney. We know the dog has cancer. It is a sad, human and completely unexpected moment in a film about ambition, greed and overreaching.

For the majority of the story, Sam’s relationship with his dog is one of the few personal facts we know about him (or anyone), and it is the only expression of authentic affection and empathy in the picture. It communicates Sam’s capacity for love. At the same time, he is not at the bedside of a child or a wife, nor is anyone with him when he visits the dog. So we also know, he is down to a last chip or two in terms of his loving connections. In just a few frames, writer/director J.C. Chandor accomplished so much—which got me thinking about what dogs mean to us and how often they are used to elucidate human character in movies, stories and, more cynically, advertising. Dogs are one of the ways we define ourselves—for better or for worse. In this case, for better.

News: Guest Posts
The Significance of Inca
Writer director Jeff Kopas talks about casting his dog in his first feature film

In the new independent film, An Insignificant Harvey, the three-foot-four Harvey (played by Jordan Prentice) feels as insignificant as he looks. Orphaned, isolated and angry, he works as a janitor at a ski resort in remote northern Ontario. His lonely life promises to stay that way until he crosses paths with a stray Husky. Like they often do, this dog sends Harvey’s life in new direction—a warm-hearted paradigm shift that many of us have experienced first hand.

The dog star of the film is a five-year-old Siberian Husky named Inca who belongs to writer-director Jeff Kopas. In the weeks before his movie hits the big screen, Kopas talked to The Bark about Inca—the actress and the character.

The Bark: How did this story begin? Was there always a dog?

Jeff Kopas: We started by developing a story about how everyone feels at some point in their lives insignificant. As we developed the story, it became about somebody who is actually, I mean, quite literally small. And the idea was always to bring in the power that an animal can have in helping us feel loved and therefore not feel insignificant in the world.

It was my first feature, so I was trying to write something I knew I could execute so you try use stuff that is at your disposal. I have a small family ski chalet up in Northern Ontario area where it was filmed, and, obviously, I had a good-looking dog who was actually pretty well trained.

I think it’s funny you thought incorporating a dog into your film would make things easier for you. A lot of filmmakers talk about how hard it is to work with animals.

It is. I came up doing commercials and one of my niches was working with children and dogs. Everyone says that’s the hardest. So I think I overcame that quite quickly in the beginning. [Although] I was a little nervous as I went into production thinking, ‘how much of an idiot will I be if I use my own dog and she won’t listen to me?’

You talk about how a dog’s love can make you feel significant. My impression of what I’ve seen of the film is that you explore how a dog can open your heart.

You hit it on the nail. That ended up being one of the cruxes of the story. It’s that idea of that first step of Harvey taking the risk to open his heart to another living animal and that opens up of a floodgate of a new life for him.

In the film, he refuses to take [Inca] in at first but he was orphaned and obviously this dog is orphaned and she won’t leave him alone, she follows him around for two days. And finally, she’s sitting outside his trailer in the middle of a farm and there’s this terrible storm, and he looks out the window and it’s just too much for him, he finally can’t say no. He opens the door for her and that’s it, once that happens it leads him on this journey that is life changing.

[You can catch a glimpse of this moment in the trailer.]

It was so great because they [Jordan Prentice and Inca] became quite good friends. They really bonded. So it was fun: When he opens the door, she bounds in and goes right onto the bed.

I was wondering about that. I imagine the chemistry between the dog and the actors is so important.

It is really important and I was nervous about that. And Jordan hasn’t had dogs, and especially big dogs like this, growing up. I tried to force them together before we shot, and luckily, she’s got a very sweet disposition (obviously, this is one-sided) and right away they connected.

Funny production story that I haven’t told yet: We had this fun night off [think: hot tubs and beer] and I couldn’t find Inca at the end of the night. She was always hanging around, but I couldn’t find her. So at four in the morning, I’m going, ‘Where the hell is the dog?’ And I finally found her; she was in bed with Jordan and his girlfriend.

I was like, ‘This is ridiculous,’ so I took her with me. Jordan was kind of mad at me the next morning. He’s like, ‘She wanted to stay with me and you took her away.’ It was pretty funny. In his words, she became part of the pack.

I’ve heard these things happen on sets.

Yes, we all bonded. She had this whole family for four weeks. She became very spoiled because she was the center of attention.

Was it fun having her on the set? It seems like it would give it a relaxed, family feeling.

It is. It’s funny you say that because when I am doing commercials, I bring her. I work with postproduction houses that are dog friendly; it just sort of fluked out that way. I’ll make sure the clients are OK with dogs, and then I’ll bring her, and it just calms everyone down. People can get very intense in those scenarios and it just has this amazing effect.

Do you think you’ll work with Inca again or is she retiring from film?

She’s actually been in a couple of commercials I’ve done, and she’s written into my next film, it’s a small scene.

She can make Alfred Hitchcock style cameos in the future—so we can look for her?

I don’t see why not.

You can look for Inca’s first film appearance, as an eight-week-old puppy, in Jeff Kopas’s short Dogasaur (at vitalitymedia.com in Narrative Film under “The Work”).

 

News: Guest Posts
NCIS Character Mentions Bark
The takeaway: Adopting mutts is hip

The Bark got an unexpected shout-out last night on “NCIS: Los Angeles.” About 14 minutes into the episode, Deeks, an LAPD officer played by Eric Christian Olsen, heads to a café with Kensi, a special ops field agent played by Daniela Ruah, to track down members of a Libyan resistance movement. In the backseat of their car perches an adorable rescue mutt named Monty. He actually looks a lot like Deeks, who tries to convince Kensi the dog will be perfect cover for their undercover work. He tells her, “it is actually requirement for young, hip couples in Los Angeles to have rescue dogs.”

He plans to have Monty pose as a service animal to get into the café. When Kensi looks skeptical, Deeks explains a little more about service animals. “I read about it in Bark magazine,” he says. “Did you get that? Bark magazine? Their motto is Dog Is My CoPilot? No? Not gonna fly?” At this point, Monty leans forward from the backseat and plants a big lick on Kensi’s face. (Of course, we wish the script had Monty join the pair in the café rather than leaving him in the car on a warm day—even with the NPR playing.)

Later on in the episode, named of all things “Deadline” (just as we were putting the finishing touches to our November issue), Monty is awarded a badge for his policing work. Nice touch! Go Monty.

The episode can be viewed on the CBS show website.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
First Commercial for Dogs
Purina releases an ad designed for pets

Sometimes my dogs look at the television, but I'm not sure if they're actually watching. I haven't seen any connection to a particular image or sound. I think they just notice the movement on the screen and have learned to ignore the noise.

I thought that might change when I heard that Purina released what they're calling the first-ever television commercial designed for both dogs and humans. The goal was to make an advertisement that caught dogs' attention, but didn't detract from the dialogue intended for humans.

The resulting commercial, for their Beneful dog food, features a squeak, a high-frequency tone (that humans can barely hear), and a ping noise. Purina also said that the commercial also features whispering, which they found was successful in gaining dogs' attention, although I didn't hear any whispering in the advertisement.

The commercial was released in Austria and can be viewed below. When I played the commercial, my dogs didn't seem impressed. I didn't even see an ear move towards my computer.

How did your crew react?

News: Guest Posts
Inventing the Perfect Pup Product
Leash inventor featured on Quirky reality show

Have you ever felt like you had a great idea for a million-dollar dog product and all you needed was a little technical—and maybe emotional—support?

Tonight, Sara Carpenter of Richmond Hill, N.Y., finds out if her idea for a soft retractable-leash with a pocket for waste bags is going to have its chance at the big time. She’s one of two inventors featured on the Sept. 6 episode of Quirky (10 pm ET), a Sundance Channel reality series built around a product-development company that brings the inventions of everyday folks to market—with a big dose of public input via social media.

Carpenter is an unemployed single mom, an ex-New York police officer (with the accent to match), who pulled together her idea for the Kosuko leash trying to find something that worked for her and her dog, Pom. I have serious reservations about retractable leashes. At the very least, they encourage bad leash-walking behavior, and at the worst, the extended leads create tangling and strangling risks. Plus, a dog running out the full length of the leash can build momentum that is dangerous for the dog and the walker.

That said, I am impressed with people who take an idea and run with it, especially if the motivation is, at least in part, to make our lives with our dogs better.

It has me thinking though: With so many dog products out there, what still really needs to be improved on? What canine accessory would you like to see the team at Quirky tackle next? An edible Frisbee? A calorie-calculating food dish? A nail clipper that your dog LOVES?

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News: Guest Posts
Lone Dog on the Tibetan Plateau
The strange case of the Kailash canines

I recently read a review copy of Tibet: Culture on the Edge by Phil Borges (which will be published by Rizzoli in October). Through otherworldly portraits and measured prose, Borges captures a truly rarified place and people caught in the grip of Chinese expansion and modernization.

It’s a fabulous book, and although not a book about dogs or for dog people per se, there was one photo of a dog that stopped me in my reading. Perched on a riverbank, Merda looks noble and self-contained in a stark valley near Mount Kailash. Her story is equally stark, and I share both here with the permission of Phil Borges Studio.

Phil Borges writes:

My guide told me that Merda’s mother survived a dog massacre carried out by the local authorities. Three years ago the large vultures that are instrumental in Tibetan sky burials mysteriously disappeared from the Mount Kailash area. The monks who perform the sky burial began to rely on dogs to dispose of the deceased’s remains. Having developed a taste for human flesh the dogs became dangerous and actually attacked and killed a pilgrim. Not knowing which dogs were responsible, all dogs in the Kailash area were ordered to be killed. Merda’s mother was shot but survived. Merda faithfully followed us for three days as we walked the Kailash Kora.

Such a striking story, it's almost like a fable, a tale of unintended consequences. We enlist dogs in the activities of our lives (and deaths) in so many different ways, and there they are, always, following us faithfully.

News: Guest Posts
Puppy Mill Exposé on HBO
Madonna of the Mills premieres August 24

Mark your calendar for Wednesday, August 24th so you can watch the HBO documentary, Madonna of the Mills. I was able to preview the film and liked what I saw. The movie documents the passion of Laura Amato (the Madonna) on her forays into Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Her sole purpose for traveling into the heart of Amish country is the rescue of puppy mill dogs, specifically those who are “used up” (no longer capable of breeding) and slated to be destroyed.

Laura is an intriguing main character. Her composure remains completely passive as she interacts with puppy mill breeders. She is therefore allowed access into the kennels and, on occasion the camera is allowed to follow. When this happens, what we see is predictably gruesome. One wonders how Laura can remain so emotionally detached while in the midst of such inhumanity. Clearly, she understands that such passivity is required if she is to accomplish the task at hand, namely the rescue of innocent victims, one at a time. The movie credits state that Laura has rescued more than two thousand dogs.

For those who are familiar with puppy mills, there’s really nothing new revealed here. The kennel conditions are beyond horrific, the dogs are physically and psychologically traumatized beings, it is clear that legislation is needed to make things better, and there are some happy endings thanks to generous, kind-hearted, patient people.

One could argue that, through her actions, the Madonna is enabling puppy mills to thrive. It wasn’t clear to me if Laura actually purchases the dogs she rescues. What was clear was that that none of her actions would deter the puppy mill trade. Laura is clearly a prisoner of her passion. One senses she would give up anything and everything in her life before surrendering her rescue missions. In a brief moment of emotional vulnerability she talks about the enormity of the puppy mill situation while seemingly trying to convince herself that by rescuing one dog at a time, she is making a difference.

Whether or not you agree with what Laura is doing, the beauty of this documentary is that it will educate the public about puppy mills. Someone contemplating purchasing a pup from a pet store just might be dissuaded from doing so after watching this movie. By the way, I wish the movie had more strongly emphasized that pups purchased online (site and sight unseen) are also likely to be puppy mill progeny. Nonetheless, kudos to those responsible for making this documentary. Have a look and tell me what you think. Have you already heard more than enough about puppy mills or do you think there's room for more? By the way, you may want to have a box of Kleenex close at hand, and perhaps something to soothe your nerves while viewing the graphic scenes.

Here's the trailer:

Madonna of the Mills Trailer from Umbrella Girl Media on Vimeo.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Favorite Summer Movie Gets a Lot Right
Animal accuracy in Hollywood a rare treat

It’s always fun to scoff at Hollywood’s attempts to be scientifically correct, and the opportunities come up so often that resisting the urge to poke fun is usually futile. That’s why it was such a surprise to catch Disney getting so much right in the animated movie Bolt. If you're looking for a good kid-friendly summer rental that gets a suprising amount of canine behavior right, here's a good choice.

There were three particularly charming scenes that are spot-on. In one scene, the dog Bolt plays with another dog, and the behavior patterns that he exhibits are accurate. He and his playmate both perform play bows at the start of play. This behavior pattern consists of putting their elbows on the ground while leaving their back end up. As is often the case in real life, the dogs look at each other with the classic mammalian play face of an open mouth and a relaxed face. They wag their tails, too, which is also commonly seen when dogs perform play bows. Then, after the first set of play bows, there is a pause before a game of chase begins, then another break in the play before it gets going again. The behavior sequence is a textbook example of play between unfamiliar dogs, especially in regards to the presence of so many play bows.

Another scene shows Bolt as a puppy completely obsessed with a squeaky carrot toy. He squeaks it repeatedly, and also pounces on it, grabs it, and shakes it, just as many real-life toy-motivated dogs do. His behavior reveals the same big-footed, clumsy goofiness so typical in real-life young dogs. This toy remains a favorite of his for years, which is also remarkably common in the real world.

The third refreshingly accurate scene in Bolt involves a street-wise cat named Mittens teaching the sheltered Bolt how to beg for food from people. Mittens is very specific and quite savvy about how to look as dear as possible in order to get humans to relinquish their food. Mittens’ instructions to Bolt include cocking his head, opening his eyes wider as he tilts his head forward, putting one ear up and one ear down, whimpering, and lifting his paw. The visuals of Bolt performing each step according to the cat’s instructions make for a hilarious montage as Bolt’s body postures and facial expressions combine in ever more effective ways for getting people to say, “Awww” and surrendering their food. In another toast to the reality of life, when this scrawny cat attempts the exact same behaviors to beg for food, the people tell her to scram or slam the door on her. Cats are generally less effective at getting people to give them food. It seems no animal can churn up humans’ sympathetic giving natures like the dog.

Bolt is no nature documentary. As in most animated films, the animals talk and plot elaborate schemes, and display all the other human-inspired behavior you’d expect from an action flick. Nonetheless, when the animals were being true to their species, all I could think was, “Kudos to Hollywood for this rare and unexpected accuracy!”

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