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For Your Consideration: 'Kill Me Three Times' and 'White God'

Kill Me Three Times
Australian director Kriv Stenders (Red Dog, Boxing Day) makes the heavy-handed tributes to Quentin Tarantino painfully obvious in his new feature, Kill Me Three Times. The plot is cut into sections and told in chronological overlap, out of order, so that we learn each part of a double-crossing double-cross crime caper one by one. The credits, score, and wise-cracking leading hit man of Simon Pegg all point to the sort of film Stenders is trying to make, or rather recycle. Novice screenwriter James McFarland does not give Pegg much to work with in the role of black-suited, Coronado-driving hit man Charlie Wolfe, which is a waste. None of the characters or their interweaving relationships provide much depth or interest either, but it is difficult in these cases to know whether to blame the script or a team of less experienced actors, including Alice Braga (niece of Sônia Braga) and Luke Hemsworth (older brother of Chris Hemsworth) -- I kept confusing the latter with Sullivan Stapleton, who plays a different character, for a good part of the film. Definitely a movie to skip.

White God
Fehér isten (White God), directed and co-written by Kornél Mundruczó of Hungary, won the Un Certain Regard prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year. Although it was entered by Hungary for the Best Foreign Film category at the Academy Awards, it was not nominated, but it deserves to be seen by a wider audience. The basic concept is familiar from any number of movies about kids and the unbreakable bond they have with their dogs. Strong-willed Lili (played with fierce independence by newcomer Zsófia Psotta) is dropped off by her mom for an extended stay with her estranged father. In tow is her adorable mutt, Hagen, who causes her and her dad no end of trouble. To avoid a tax assessed on "street dogs," that is, dogs not of a pure, recognized Hungarian breed, Lili's father tries to convince her to let him take the dog to the shelter. After an unsuccessful attempt to run away and keep the dog on her own, Lili is forced by her father to abandon Hagen on the street.

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That turn of events is painful enough, but Hagen's journey back to Lili takes several turns for the worse, as he is chased by animal control authorities, lives on the streets, and eventually ends up being viciously "trained" as a fighting dog, sequences that are not recommended for the faint of heart. Finally captured by animal control and slated for euthanization, Hagen manages to escape with about 200 of his closest friends from the shelter, a pack of half-breed curs that runs through the city hellbent on revenge. (These amazing scenes were filmed with a real throng of canine extras.) At this point, the literal-minded viewer will be rather befuddled, as the dogs seem capable of an almost human level of self-awareness and decision-making. Quite suddenly, Hagen and his four-footed friends become allegory.

The fictitious law that discriminates against "half-breed" dogs like Hagen provides a clue to what is going on here, an allusion to the present Hungarian government, in which conservative prime minister Viktor Orbán has gotten into bed with the Jobbik party's "Movement for a Better Hungary." The latter group, Hungarian nationalists known for xenophobic and anti-Semitic rhetoric, is growing in popularity, currently holding the third most seats in the Hungarian parliament. Hungarian pianist András Schiff has refused to return to Hungary because of the government, allegedly because he has received threats to have his hands cut off if he does, in retribution for speaking out against it. Mundruczó represents this struggle for the soul of Hungary in music, namely in Liszt's second Hungarian Rhapsody, a piece that represents "Hungarianness" perhaps more than any other, not to mention its ubiquity in cartoons. Lili plays trumpet in a youth orchestra, portrayed in the film by the Tóth Aladár Ifjúsági Zenekar, an ensemble from a music school in Budapest, and she is rehearsing for a piano-and-orchestra version of the piece. The famous opening phrase, played by Lili on her trumpet, becomes a signature theme for both her and Hagen.

Both of these films open today, at the E Street Cinema.

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