Pick of the Litter

Who doesn’t like dogs, puppies? Yeah, there are a few. Some have bad experiences, but that’s rare. Dogs can do so much for us. It’s hard not to love them.

The documentary Pick of the Litter shows how wonderful dogs can be, how lucky we are to have them. Pick of the Litter follows the puppies of the P litter: Patriot, Phil, Primrose, Poppet, Potomac as they go through the training and testing to become a guide dog. Few puppies ever make the cut. 

We meet these pups as their born and see how the staff at Guide Dogs for the Blind names each one. Then after 8 weeks the puppies are place with families that will begin training them so that they’re comfortable out on the street, in stores, at the airport, that they aren’t easily distracted and that they can heel. Some families are veteran trainers; others are first timers. Some will fail and the dog will be moved to another home. The guide dog center frequently observes these dogs and when a dog shows the wrong characteristics will “career change” the dog removes him or her from the program. 

After 14 to 16 months the dogs return to the center for more intense and specific training. They’re put on guide dog harnesses and taught to obey, to navigate busy streets and to know when to disobey a command because the surroundings are dangerous. Dogs are tested repeatedly. Some who don’t make it will become breeders; others will find new homes, new purpose.

This touching film shows how life changing a guide dog can be. Interviews with people who’ll receive these dogs show how much more independent a they will be. It’s a touching story of the dogs and people who work to make life much better for others.

Audience: Fine for all ages. No bad language, violence or sex.

Available: I got a DVD from the library but Hulu and Amazon also have it.  

Cold War (2018)

Set in the 1950s and 60s Paweł Pawlikowski’s, Cold War tells a tumultuous love story. When Wiktor tours the countryside scouting proletarian folk singers for a touring company he’s captivated by Zula, a young woman with a history. Though she’s rather sneaky in getting chosen, she becomes part of the group and becomes Wiktor’s lover. Things go fairly well till Zula tells Wiktor that she’s snitching on him to the Communist Party leaders. Wiktor must leave and Zula winds up abandoning him. 

The film follows the couple as they reunite, betray each other, marry other people, live in other countries and reunite again. Like many passionate characters their emotions are rarely even keeled. I was surprised to learn that Pawlikowski’s based the film on a calmer version of his parents’ love. 

Folk, jazz, Italian and French music enhances the film. I never thought I’d enjoy Soviet era Polish folk music, but it’s energy and fresh feel were easy to like. On top of that the young, innocent girls dancing in their full skirts entertained. Dialogue is minimal so the music fills a void. 

The use of black and white film with few grays portrayed the bleak era, where surveillance was ubiquitous and the secret police would track an exile down across Europe. 

The only quibble I had with the film was that it seemed rather odd that every now and then Wiktor would refer to Zula as the love of his life. I just don’t think people tell train conductors or people you have no lasting relationship with that sort of thing. People would say, “I’m looking for my girlfriend” or something. I was even more incredulous when Wiktor’s in bed with his French girlfriend and she asks him where he was. He replies that he’s been with the love of his life. The French woman doesn’t flinch. But it’s a minor problem in the scheme of things. For some reasons, though the two main characters are not lovable to me as people, the film does work.

I urge you to get the DVD from the library as I did so you can watch the extras. The Criterion Collection DVD includes the Cannes Film Festival panel interview, a short documentary on making the film and an interview with Pawiklowski, who wrote and directed Cold War. 

The Downfall of Santa Claus

Santa’s discouraged. Kids don’t believe in him as they once did. All his elves have gone to warmer climes to enjoy the beach. Only one boy believes. Is that enough?

Santa shakes off his discouragement, readies Rudolph and goes to deliver Vitae’s Christmas gift. The journey is not without peril. This short film (15 minutes approx.) is sweet. I wouldn’t advise watching it with young kids. It’s better for adults and kids who’ve outgrown Santa, but not his message of charity, kindness and innocence.

The Downfall of Santa Claus can be streamed on Kanopy, the streaming service I get for free from my library.

In Norwegian with English subtitles

Flambards

flambardsLast week I watched an old favorite, Flambards, a British historical drama set in 1910. I first saw this 1979 program in the 80’s and I wondered whether it was available on DVD. Thankfully through my library’s network, I could get them.

In this post-Downton Abbey or Poldark era, I thought perhaps I wouldn’t like Flambards as much as I remembered. While the film seems fuzzy and the sets aren’t as dazzling, I love this program.

Flambards begins with Christina, an orphan who’s been shuffled from aunt to aunt, comes to her uncle’s home. Confined to a wheelchair, Uncle Russell is gruff on a good day. He wakes up and goes to bed barking orders. The rest of the day he’s usually shouting or plotting while drinking port.

When Christina arrives in town, no one’s there to pick her up at the train. Only her cousin William remembered she was coming. Will and Christina are kindred spirits, but Mark, Will’s older brother, is an egotistical, status-conscious, hard drinking churl. Christina’s horrified to learn that the plan is that when she turns 21 in six years, she’s to inherit her money and would then marry Mark so her money may be used to prop up the Flambards estate.

A major conflict in the story is between Mark, the churl, who lives for fox hunting and drinking, and William, the younger brother, who’s fascinated by flying machines, and all things modern. Christina feels both challenged and safe around William, whereas Mark frustrates and maddens her.

Another crucial character is Dick, a stable worker, who teaches Christina to ride. He’s sweet on her, but well aware of his place. Christiana treats Dick as an equal forgetting the class difference. Will tries to get Dick to stop calling him “sir” because he doesn’t support the rigid class structure, but Will sees that such a gesture doesn’t really change anything. After helping Christiana save her old horse from getting eaten by the hounds, Will’s dismissed. The injustice is clear and swift. Though Christina owns up to her part, i.e. she came up with the plan and participated in it as much as Will or Dick, Dick is the online to pay a price. We see how cruel men like Uncle Russel could be, how they used their power.

Flambards has romance, history and conflict, i.e. all the ingredients I need in a good drama. Based on a novel by K.M. Peyton, Flambards is an ideal candidate for a remake. It worked for Poldark, for which next season is its last. The same writer should take on Flambards.

Look – I think you can watch Flambards here.