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Entries in Animal (2)

Sunday
Jul072019

THE CAT RESCUERS

With: Latonya ‘Sassee’ Walker, Claire Corey, Stuart Siet and Tara Green.
Directors: Rob Fruchtman and Steven Lawrence.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

There is a bitter irony at work in The Cat Rescuers that makes it more than just a ‘cat person’s perfect night-in movie. This profile of four New Yorkers who give their time, money and emotion to caring for a small fraction of the street cats of The Big Apple is certainly for animal lovers of every kind, but it also highlights a world in which people who feel a compassionate bond for and behave with empathy and dedication towards another species are the exception. And that’s a bit sad.

Over 500,000 strays live wild in NYC, most unsterilized, resulting in litter after litter of kittens that exponentially add to the problem, if they survive at all. Building sites, backyards, alleyways and sewers become their domain, predominantly abandoned pets left by owners whose situations have changed. The Cat Rescuers does not sugar coat the life of the big city feral, with scenes depicting the bloody aftermath of tomcat territoriality and the baby-making destiny of female felines.

The Cat Rescuers themselves offer a diverse cross-section of New York types. Single-mum Latonya ‘Sassee’ Walker is well-known in her suburb for her boisterous and beautiful personality, which plays well with the cats she rescues and cares for; Claire Corey is a married thirty-something, investing effort and emotion to save and rehouse her charges; Stuart Siet is a middle-aged FDNY techie, whose cat-rescuing duties start at 3am; and, Tara Green is a single woman for whom cat rescue has helped reconcile and refocus a troubled past.

Precisely balancing their narrative between a spayed-and-neutered advocacy agenda and a portrait of unique human beings, directors Rob Fruchtman and Steven Lawrence are afforded all-access status into the lives of their real-world protagonists. Their film frontloads scenes one expects from a documentary called The Cat Rescuers, yet a slow-burn shift in focus reveals the rescued become the rescuers in a very profound way.

The Cat Rescuers is verite documentary making in its purest and most effectively engaging form. The hope is that the film may inspire action and change; local governments need to budget for and enforce neutering campaigns, while volunteer groups and organisations like Animal Care Centres of NYC must be allocated increased funding. 

As much as it is a cat’s tale, The Cat Rescuers is also a moving study in good humanity (see also Jesse Alk’s canine counterpoint doco, Pariah Dog); a heartfelt ode to those who share the world with respect and love for all creatures, great and small.

Learn more about the efforts of The Cat Rescuers at the film's official website.

NEVER BUY A PET. Adopt from one of the following organisations in your country: R.S.P.C.A. Australia; R.S.P.C.A. United Kingdom; A.S.P.C.A. United States; S.P.C.A. New Zealand; Tierheim Germany; Société Protectrice Animaux France; Italy Animal Rescue; Adopt A Pet, South Africa.

Sunday
Sep232018

ALPHA

Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Marcin Kowalczyk, Jens Hultén, Natassia Malthe, Spencer Bogaert, Mercedes de la Zerda and Leonor Varela.
Writers: Daniele Sebastian Wiedenhaupt (screenplay) and Albert Hughes (story).
Director: Albert Hughes

RATING: ★
★
★
★

In this modern movie-going age, where origin stories clutter up our multiplexes with tiresome monotony, it seems fitting that a film that ponders on the starting point of the age-old ‘a boy and his dog’ narrative should take place around the dawn of prehistory. Deceptively simple in its construction yet sweepingly epic, exciting and genuinely moving in its execution, Albert Hughes’ Alpha spins a potentially academic ‘domestication of the dog’ story into a coming-of-age fable that adventure hounds and dog lovers will drool over.

Set 20,000 years ago against a European landscape of shifting geography and harsh climate, Sebastian Wiedenhaupt’s screenplay introduces us to protagonist Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) at a pivotal moment in the young man’s passage towards alpha-manhood. He is being led into a buffalo hunt by his father, tribal elder Tau (appropriately sturdy Icelandic actor Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson), yet fails to be the man his tribe and his dad needs him to be.

Flashbacks reveal Keda is the sensitive type, unable to slay an animal for food and not the natural woodsman or warrior that is expected of someone with his heritage. Smit-McPhee’s casting proves a deft masterstroke despite at first appearing misjudged. Very much not the hulking caveman type, the Australian actor’s lean physique, doleful eyes and initial timidity does not disappear over the course of his personal growth, but rather takes on an androgynous muscularity that is central and crucial to the film’s subtext.

Separated and left for dead, Keda is adrift and alone on the prehistoric tundra, his injuries making him seemingly easy pickings for scavengers. Prime amongst them is a wolf pack, which fails in their bid to drag Keda from a tree and nearly lose one of their own in the attack. The entire second-act of Alpha is largely the young tribesman regaining his strength while tending to the wolf’s wounds; the co-dependency they develop takes a few real-world liberties (surely a starving wolf would turn on his protein-rich human companion at some point?), but dramatically the friendship is a potent and believable match-up.

As Keda and his newly bonded wolf companion (part real animal, part mostly convincing CGI) set out for his tribal home, they must overcome physically challenging and breathtakingly photographed obstacles, including an unforgettable encounter on and underneath an ice-lake, an omnipresent hyena pack, the first snow of the season and, in one terrifying sequence, the lair of a true alpha predator. Director Albert Hughes, making his solo directorial debut after doing double-duty for two decades with his brother Allen on such films as Menace II Society (1993), Dead Presidents (1995), From Hell (2001) and The Book of Eli (2001) enlivens a rather perfunctory ‘journey home’ plot with thrilling, vast and complex staging of the pair’s trek. He also forges a believably emotional bond between man and beast that is driven home in both personal and sociological terms in the film’s final frames.

Narratively, Alpha is a lean, small-scale friendship drama, of outcasts from their clans bonding across an interspecies divide. Cinematically and thematically, however, Hughes’ film is a grand, bold vision of the development of humankind, one that transcends its millennia-old setting and makes an entirely and passionately contemporary statement.