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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Top 10 dogs from Film & TV

Bully Breed, the short film we produced in conjunction with Battersea Dogs Home, was screened to a committee at the Houses of Parliament last week. The film’s purpose is to highlight and combat the growing problem of young people acquiring bull-breed dogs for use as weapons.

To mark the film’s release, and to celebrate the joy of working with dogs, I’ve put together a list of my 10 favourite onscreen mutts. Now if this were a proper top 10 based on merit or cachet then Lassie would win every time, but I’m afraid her bumptious little face has no place here. These are just my personal faves: the funny ones, the messy ones, and the alcoholic womanising atheist ones. Bowow!

 

10. Iron Will (1994) **VAGUE SPOILERS (It’s a kids film though, no biggie)**

iron will
This film is essentially Free Willy but with huskies instead of an orca whale. Unsurprisingly, it was released just a year later. A few details are changed here and there (the huskies are taking part in a race, or something), but overall it’s a fairly mediocre rehash of the classic family whale-a-thon. In fact, August Schellenberg – he plays good old Randolph in the Free Willy franchise – appears in this, and he’s playing exactly the same enigmatic, definitely high, mystic who becomes the protagonist’s mentor/father-figure. I think he’s even wearing some of the same clothes that he wore in Free Willy.

The reasons I’m including Iron Will in this list are twofold: firstly, huskies are amazing and they feature fairly heavily in this film; and secondly, for anyone who enjoys watching poorly executed family melodrama for its intrinsic ironical value, Iron Will is a goldmine.

In Free Willy, remember the inscrutable mantra that Randolph teaches Jesse, which he then uses to goad Willy to jump over the rocks? Well, in Iron Will, exactly the same thing happens, except the mantra is transposed into a pedestrian four-note melody that, when whistled, makes the huskies go twice as fast! This guy gets it.

This movie has to be seen to be believed, plus Kevin Spacey’s in it for a bit.

 

9. Barf – Spaceballs (1987)

“Mawg, I’m a mawg”

 

A definite controversial choice here, Barfolomew is of course a “Mawg” – half-man half-dog (he’s “his own best friend”). But his mere 50% doggishness makes the list on the merit of John Candy’s hilarity, and just Spaceballs in general.

Mildly interesting Wiki fact: In the Russian translation of the movie, a Mawg was rendered as “Chelobakka”, a portmanteau of words “chelovek” (a man) and “sobaka” (a dog) also spoofing the name Chewbacca. I bet you’re glad that you’re reading this blog now.

 

 

8. Brian Griffin – Family Guy

“Whose leg do you have to hump to get a dry martini around here?”

It’s telling of Seth MacFarlane’s attitude towards the typical American family that he decided to make the two most intellectual characters in his show a dog and a baby. One of Family Guy’s greatest triumphs is Brian the anthropomorphised, politicised, atheist labrador retriever, voiced in MacFarlane’s own speaking voice. Apparently William H. Macy originally auditioned for the part of Brian, but it seems impossible to imagine anyone else doing it now.

Brian and Stewie’s relationship is easily the best part of the show and the “Road to…” episodes always deliver. He’s the least dog-like dog on this list, but that allows him to commit bestiality, write a novel, drink and drive, and we don’t mind because we see him as another human character. Some of his funniest moments come about, however, when he fails to repress his own nature and starts acting instinctively dog-like.

 

 

7. Milo – The Mask (1994)


“P-A-R-T….Why?…” – It’s fair to say that there’s something wrong with you if you can’t complete this quote from The Mask. Arguably the Anchorman of the 90s, this film is memorable, quotable, but it’s not just all about Jim Carrey.

It wouldn’t be right to neglect the talents of Max the Jack Russell terrier who plays Stanley Ipkiss’ faithful frisbee-loving companion Milo. He brings an extra splash of character to ensure we don’t OD on Carrey’s rip-roaring garishness, and also is responsible for one of the few laugh-out-loud moments not involving his owner. You know the one I mean.

 

 

 

 

6. Cynthia’s Dog – The Big Lebowski (1997)

lebowski scriptI’ll usually find some way of getting The Big Lebowski into any list I’m compiling. Its brilliance and eclecticism mean that it contains classic examples of many things. A dog cameo is one of these things. Although, admittedly, it’s quite a small aspect of the movie compared to some of the other canines on this list, Walter’s ex-wife’s “Pomeranian” nevertheless inspires some of the quintessential dialogue which Lebowski fans have come to learn and repeat like scripture.

The reason I write “Pomeranian” is because the dog in question isn’t actually a Pomeranian at all. It’s either a Cairn or Yorkshire terrier – this is a Pomeranian. The purposeful inaccuracy sets up a little cohesive running gag which is called back to later when the Dude incorrectly identifies the “amphibious rodent” in the bath with him as a marmot (it’s actually a ferret). The Dude and Walter were clearly smoking too many Thai sticks during college. 

Comedic turns such as this are embedded in the loquacious dialogue and generally remain hidden during the first few hundred viewings, hence why the film is so relentlessly re-watchable. The dog may not have any real narrative significance, but it adds to the layers of comedy and also appears in two of the film’s funniest scenes. Not exactly a lightweight.

 

 

5. Santa’s Little Helper – The Simpsons

Introduced in the very first episode of The Simpsons to ever be aired (December 17, 1989), Bart’s dimwitted but loveable pooch (NOT Poochie) has been at the centre of some of the shows greatest episodes. “Two Dozen and One Greyhounds” would undoubtedly be in my top 10.

He’s the antithesis of Brian Griffin, portrayed as every bit a real-life dog, apart from a few breaks in this portrayal for the sake of a gag – my personal favourite example of this, apologies for video quality.

Whether he’s being chased through the vents by Willy (“There’s nary an animal alive that can outrun a greased Scotsman!”), or turning into liquid Terminator 2 style in order to escape the car, Santa’s Little Helper is involved in some of The Simpsons’ best laughs.

 

 

4. Beethoven (1992)

“AAAAAAaaaahhhh!!!” – Charles Grodin in Beethoven

I suspect that – aside from being one of the most influential composers ever, whose music is still lauded the world over – Ludwig van Beethoven would’ve also been very proud that his name is now synonymous with one of the greatest canine-based family comedies starring Charles Grodin of all time.

Co-written by John Hughes (Home Alone; Planes, Trains, and Automobiles) under a pseudonym, this bouncy caper (and the SIX sequels that followed it) chronicles the misadventures of a colossal St. Bernard, played by Chris. Beethoven was an entertainment staple for any child growing up in the 90s. My favourite bit can be viewed here – the trailer is a minor masterpiece in itself.

 

 

Those were some particularly potent Scooby snacks – “Ruh-roh!”

3. Scooby-Doo

I’m obviously talking about the Scooby from the original Hanna-Barbera series, rather than the 3D abomination of the more recent films. I suppose he would place somewhere in between Santa’s Little Helper and Brian Griffin in terms of cognitive ability. He’s not completely dog-like, he has rudiments of language, but somehow his younger cousin Scrappy has already fully mastered his lexicon, whilst Scoob keeps dropping in random “R’s” all over the place. Must be all that gear that Shaggy keeps feeding him.

“Rooby-rooby-roo!”

Another mildly interesting Wiki fact: Scoob’s name was inspired by the syllables “doo-be-doo-be-doo” from Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night”. Keep that doozy in your back pocket the next time you want to win at conversation.

 

 

 

 

2. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)homeward bound

I can only apologise for the fairly 90s-centric nature of this list, it wasn’t my intention when I started out writing. It’s not my fault that so much quality entertainment was produced during the decade I happened to grow up in, a disproportionate amount of it apparently dog related.

Homeward Bound is perhaps the seminal example, the story of Chance and Shadow (played respectively by a bulldog called Rattler and a golden retiever called Ben)  – and whatever the cat’s name was. It’s the cornerstone of so many 90s kids’ sentimental cinematic memories (there’s also Fly Away Home, but I’ll save that for my top 10 onscreen birds). It’s one of those films that will always come up when other grown-up 90s kids are having one of those “remember all that shit we used to like?” conversations.

Someone will say: “Remember Homeward Bound?” And everyone will coo and go: “Aaawww yeah!! Doesn’t Michael J. Fox play the bulldog or something?!”

He does indeed.

 

 

1. Uggie – The Artist (2011) / Water for Elephants (2011) and more

“Where’s my Oscar, bitches?”

Most notable for his role as Jack in Oscar-winning The Artist, Uggie was the toast of Hollywood in 2012. So much so, in fact, that a Facebook campaign began entitled “Consider Uggie” which aimed to get the dog recognised by the Academy for his work.

The Academy doesn’t recognise dogs because, as the probably apocryphal tale goes, at the very first Academy Awards in 1929 the legendary German shepherd Rin Tin Tin apparently received the most votes in the Best Actor category. For whatever reason – possibly the Academy not wanting to make their very first ceremony a complete farce – Rin Tin Tin was supplanted and the award given to soon-to-be Nazi propaganda star Emil Jannings.

Perhaps it’s time to eschew this precedent and introduce a “Best Animal Performance” Oscar. As one reviewer noted of Uggie in The Artist: he “steals every scene in which he appears,” a shining example that dogs don’t just have to be a fluffy novelty on the big screen.

Well that’s it, thanks for reading. Make sure to watch Bully Breed on our YouTube channel. You’d be barking mad not to. I’m sorry.

 

 


Simon Mayo – not just a pretty face (for radio)

In my formative years; those during which whether you were a “Whammie” or  “Duranie” was all important – I was neither. Nik Kershaw  was my poster crush, (and I still know all of the lyrics to The Riddle and I still have no idea what its all about, although the album is apparently being re-released this year ) .

Simon Mayo as he is now...

Simon Mayo as he is now…

But one thing that united teenagers in the late 1980s, was Simon Mayo on Radio 1. If the decade you were born in starts 1980 something or 1990 something, you may not realise that this grandee of Radio 2 (currently in the Drivetime slot), slowly and gracefully edging his way into the more rigorously intellectual Radio 4, was once the primetime Radio 1 breakfast show DJ du jour.

...and as I remember him looking in the Radio 1 days

…and as I remember him in the Radio 1 days

I have science to thank for the fact that I heard Simon’s radio show at all. For most of his tenure at the helm of the Radio 1 flagship breakfast show, I was at university. Ask an arts graduate about what they were up to at 9am in the morning, and most of them would tell you they were still in bed, but for us science students, it was 9am lectures every day, which meant waking up to Simon Mayo in the morning

Fast forward a couple of decades and Simon now has a ten year old son, Joe, who he has become interested in science. Frustrated by turning up nothing when he looked for a good adventure book about science, he decided to write his own, and Itch, the story of Itchington Lofte: Element Hunter was born.

His 400 page novel earned him a host of awards including a nomination for the Carnegie Medal, and the Branford Boase award for children’s authors. For an interview with Simon about the book – click here. he’s also on twitter @simonmayo

Simon is currently on tour promoting its sequel – Itch Rocks. He was at our beloved Royal Institution this weekend just passed, which meant he earned a listing on our sister website www.sciencecontent.co.uk.

Our first guest blogger, Jack Croxall of www.unpopularscience.co.uk and http://jackcroxall.co.uk has written a review of Itch.

 

Chemistry is widely considered as one of the most difficult subjects to make exciting, but Simon Mayo, radio presenter of the BBC’s Drivetime and Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, seems to have discovered the perfect formula for doing so: (explosions x noxious materials) ÷ sinister global corporations. And, utilising this winning equation, Mayo has penned his debut novel, Itch; the story of fourteen year old Itchingham Lofte who, whilst attempting to collect every element in the periodic table, comes into possession of a curious new element with world-changing potential.

At its core, Itch revolves around the relationship of Itch, his younger sister Chloe and his cousin Jacqueline (Jack) as they cope with the problems associated with possessing a radioactive substance the world and his dog would do anything to obtain. And what a charming and absorbing relationship it is; despite being the youngest, Chloe is the most sensible of the trio and keeps her likeable brother in check as his escapades teeter on the verge of disaster. Jack brings an abundance of smarts to the dynamic, helping Itch see through his more risky moments with a tomboyish expertise. Mayo has written all three of the central trio brilliantly, and you can’t help but wonder if some traits of his own children have contributed to the mixture.

As for the chemistry included, it’s well measured, clear and undeniably fascinating; from learning how the household objects you own relate to the periodic table, to explanations of explosive reactions, there is enough here to justify Itch as an informative text without ever suffocating the exciting plot. I recently wrote a piece arguing that the Pokémon games successfully communicate biological principles to their target audience, and I think it’s fair to say that Itch does the same for Chemistry.

Being set in modern-day Cornwall (and being a young adult title), a good proportion of Itch takes place in the central trios’ school. Mayo has always been vocal of his love of the Harry Potter series and some of the disastrous goings on at Cornwall Academy echo some of the more memorable happenings in the classrooms of Hogwarts. However, whilst there was always the healing properties of magic to help smooth things over in Rowling’s universe, the potential consequences of Itch’s exploits are more serious, and this is perhaps the book’s greatest strength: whilst tremendous fun, there is the constant, underlying feeling that the main characters in Itch may well be about to come to serious harm.

Itch by Simon Mayo is available now


Bully Breed – a film for Battersea Dogs and Cats home

This project was a new venture for The Refinery, our first opportunity to produce a live action drama. Although it was a nice break from the usual factual, informative stuff, Bully Breed presented a brand new set of challenges, not least of which was working with animals.

The brief from Battersea Dog and Cat’s Home was to produce a short film which would highlight the growing problem of young people illicitly acquiring bull-breed dogs. Seen as ‘status dogs’, these animals are treated aggressively and used as weapons.

A drafted script was produced by Battersea. At its core – essentially a straightforward cautionary tale – the story involves Cale and Shar and the ramifications of their juxtaposed attitudes towards canine companions. After a flurry of re-writes, casting calls, auditions, permission requests, and all the other irksome things you forget have to happen for a movie to get made, we had just 2 days in which to get all the principal photography in the can.

Here are some EXCLUSIVE behind-the-scenes snaps from those exhausting, yet ultimately rewarding, 48 hours…

The dogs were a real joy to work with. In fact, the only significant problem was getting Alfie the Rotty to look even mildly menacing on camera. As you can clearly see from the pictures above he was soppy, mild-mannered, and far too well behaved to portray Omen – Cale’s damaged and bloodthirsty tool for revenge.

Nevertheless, the film eventually came together and was screened to a parliamentary committee last week. They’ve been tasked with tackling this mistreatment of bull-breed dogs and our film was shown to highlight the key issues.