When I watch a movie, there are two of me in the same seat. There’s that regular movie-going guy who likes blood and boobs and things that explode, rarely stopping to deeply consider what he’s seeing. We call the kind of movies that guy likes POPCORN MOVIES. But there’s another fellow who accompanies him. This guy likes some of the same things as his friend, but he is a seeker and connoisseur of SERIOUS CINEMA. This guy doesn’t just want to see a movie, he wants it to change his life. CINEMA: No way, are you watching C.H.O.M.P.S.? POPCORN: I’m missin’ my dog, dude. Don’t even start. CINEMA: I understand, and I’m sorry. It’s very hard to lose a pet. But C.H.O.M.P.S.? POPCORN: Totally wanted to have a Chomps when I was a kid. He was like a bad-ass little Benji. CINEMA: He was actually a rip-off of Benji. Hanna-Barbera was getting into live-action movies and basically made a cartoon with actors. They wanted him to be a robotic Doberman pinscher with a powerful bite, something a bit more fearful to combat the home invasion crimewave that’s happening in the movie. But BENJI was huge that year, so they opted with cute. On the television, a man removes a dog’s head. Valerie Bertinelli exclaims, “You built a watchdog!” The man pops open a hatch on the furry canine body, revealing a mass of tangled electronic components. From a nearby table, the dog’s disembodied head watches lifelessly. POPCORN: Dude. CINEMA: This unfortunate film was a feast for television lovers in 1979. The hero is played by Wesley Eure, the boy from LAND OF THE LOST. Ms. Bertinelli took a few days off from ONE DAY AT A TIME to play his girlfriend. Conrad Bain, the dad from DIFF’RENT STROKES, was his boss. Jim Backus is in here somewhere, though you undoubtedly know him as Mr. Howell. Over the course of a half-hour, Chomps roars like a lion to scare a pair of burglars out of a tree, peels the roof from a car like a can of sardines, and bursts through a brick wall as if it were made of Styrofoam. Through it all, a Hoyt Curtin score and cartoon sound effects ooze cheesily. CINEMA: There were two versions of this movie, the G-rated one most frequently seen – POPCORN: – and the original one they dubbed over. Yeah, I know. Some of the dogs did some cussin’. Like the black dog at the end that says ‘oh shit’. CINEMA: Why does it have to be a black dog? POPCORN: I dunno, dude. Pickin’ up on some kinda weird racist vibe here. Like, Chomps was jumpin’ black dudes and stuff. I dunno. And, for real, man – you got canine profanity, how come you don’t have one of ’em call another one a bitch? CINEMA: I’d say that was a missed opportunity. POPCORN: I know, right. Here’s another thing. So you make a robot dog, looks just like the real thing. You’re pretty smart if you can do that. But this dude, he makes Chomps respond to, like, codes and numbers and stuff. Instead of saying ‘Chomps, jump’ – CINEMA: It’s ‘twenty-one’ or something. POPCORN: Actually, twenty-one means ‘chase that dude’ in one scene. Then, in another scene, it means ‘escape from the van’. It’s like they ran outta numbers. But if you say ‘one hundred’ he’ll karate kick somebody in the chest. That was pretty sweet. CINEMA: If I remember correctly, his eyes light up when he learns a new command – POPCORN: Yeah, dude. Like, demon red. CINEMA: Wow. POPCORN: Know what else, man? Never noticed this until now. You make a movie with a dog in it, called C.H.O.M.P.S., you kinda expect some chomping. This dog never bites anyone. CINEMA: Hmm, disappointing. POPCORN: Yeah, you might be right. This movie ain’t gettin’ it anymore. CINEMA: Well, if it’s canine cinema you’re seeking – POPCORN: Yeah. But none of those foreign dogs, dude. CINEMA: Are you sure? There are some really profound dog stories from foreign shores. Like BOMBON EL PERRO, from 2005, about a ferocious-looking canine who ends being a happy-go-lucky mutt with a purebred pedigree – POPCORN: Naw, man. CINEMA: – or Alejandro Inarritu’s AMORES PERROS. It’s a rather dark and sad tale that prominently features dog fighting and . . . uh, yeah, maybe not. Well, there’s Vittorio De Sica’s sentimental tale UMBERTO D, from 1952, where he plays on our sympathies through the dog – POPCORN: Was gonna watch CUJO, but he goes crazy and dies. I mean, it’s not his fault that he got rabies. And no, dude, OLD YELLER is out too. CINEMA: Well, if labradors, terriers, and Siamese cats are your thing – POPCORN: THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY. Nope. I just watched that the other day. You know, after we took her to the vet . . . CINEMA: At least the movie ends happily. POPCORN: I read the book too, dude. CINEMA: What? Since last week? POPCORN: Yeah, I got bored. Actually . . . I didn’t wanna start cleanin’ up her stuff. Not yet. So I, like, picked it up and finished it that night. CINEMA: Huh. POPCORN: It was different, dude. Still ended up with all the animals gettin’ back home. But, you know, they actually get hurt in the book. The terrier, Bodger, gets pretty scratched up when he gets into it with that bear cub. He was just annoyed in the movie. And the retriever, those porcupine quills really hurt. Got all infected and stuff. But not in the movie. CINEMA: Well, it was Disney. POPCORN: Dude, Disney kills animals all the time. That’s not cool. Got any other suggestions? CINEMA: There was SOUNDER, from 1972. It also came from a young adult novel. It’s about a young African-American boy and his sharecropper family in Louisiana during the Depression. The film version isn’t as focused on the family’s dog as the book is, but there are still some moments. POPCORN: What happens? CINEMA: The family is very poor. The father steals some food so they can have breakfast, but he gets arrested. The main character, the eldest boy, comes home to find the sheriff hauling his dad away. Sounder – that’s the dog – runs after the truck with his owner in it, barking. The deputy shoots the dog – POPCORN: Dude. CINEMA: No, the dog is injured. He crawls away into the woods, and the boy goes after him. He gets the dog back, but it won’t . . . bark anymore. POPCORN: My dog didn’t bark either. Not once, ever. Weirdest thing, dude. CINEMA: I know. The movie is mostly about David, the boy. He sets out to find the labor camp where his father’s being kept. Along the way, in this fairly prejudiced area, he encounters an all-black school and a wise man who teaches him about these black philosophers. POPCORN: Sounds alright. CINEMA: It was nominated for a few Oscars. The parents were played by Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield – POPCORN: The dude that got the nasty space-worm in his ear in WRATH OF KHAN? CINEMA: Among other things, yes. It’s a very compassionate and moving film, and when the moment comes that Sounder finally barks again – POPCORN: Okay. Probably not right now, though. You ever see HAMBONE AND HILLIE? CINEMA: This isn’t one of your adult films is it? POPCORN: Come on, man. No, there’s this old lady named Hillie and she’s got a dog named Hambone. One of those yippy little dogs, but I guess he’s cool enough as yippy dogs go. So, old lady is going from, like, L.A. to New York, and the dog doesn’t make it on the plane. So Hambone decides to hitchhike across the country, and – CINEMA: Wait. So the dog is hitchhiking? POPCORN: Uh, yeah. Cuz dogs can do anything they want in movies. So it’s kinda like an incredible journey, but with more highways. CINEMA: Okay. POPCORN: Hey, I was drinkin’, dude. Mighta not remembered everything. But there was this one part. Hambone’s out there, thumb out, and this semi-truck stops. Guess who the truck driver was – CINEMA: I have no – POPCORN: It was O.J., dude. Freakin’ O.J. Simpson, stoppin’ to give this little dog a ride to Buffalo. Isn’t that a trip? CINEMA: Not one I’d want to make. So what happened, did Hambone get to New York? POPCORN: Uh-uh. O.J. killed him. CINEMA: What??? POPCORN: Naw, man. I don’t remember. Told you, I was drinkin’. CINEMA: Well, I’ve got a sobering film for you. It’s called THE PLAGUE DOGS. Based on the book of the same name by Richard Adams, the movie hit theaters in 1985. It’s the animated story of two dogs who escape from an animal experimentation facility – POPCORN: Wait. Is this the dude that wrote the one with all the bloody rabbits? CINEMA: The same, yes, and this one makes WATERSHIP DOWN feel downright festive. I was very young when I saw this for the first time, expecting some kind of cute cartoon version of THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY. If you look at the poster art, they even seem to be going for that kind of flavor. There’s a pair of dogs running through this mountainous terrain, ears flying out behind them – POPCORN: But there’s, like, a chopper behind ’em, right? CINEMA: Yeah. The caption above says something like “Escape to a different world and share the adventure of a lifetime.” Sure, if the world you’d like to escape to involves bleak, washed-out colors, English dog-Nazis, and the saddest pair of pups ever put onscreen. I mean, this movie’s first scene is about men with clipboards trying to determine if a dog is capable of drowning. With nowhere to pull himself out of this tank, the dog eventually just stops paddling, goes limp, and sinks to the bottom of the pool. These tea-sipping barbarians pull him out, resuscitate him, and speculate about how many more times he can do this. POPCORN: Dude. CINEMA: The drowning dog is a labrador, I think his name is Rowf. This is where he meets a terrier named Snitter. Snitter has some kind of skullcap taped to his head, as if they’ve been doing experiments on his brain. He keeps scratching at it, then shaking his head. Nothing is ever explicitly said, but, even as a child, I got a weird, queasy feeling when I looked at that poor dog. But he keeps nudging at Rowf, refusing to let him give up. They slink out of their cages while their keeper is busy disposing of canine bodies and feeding the other dogs – POPCORN: Dude, this is, like, a horror movie. CINEMA: For a ten-year old it sure was. POPCORN: Like doggie Dachau. CINEMA: Those were definitely the kinds of images they were throwing at you. Rowf and Snitter are sneaking through the various rooms of the lab as they make their escape. There are black rubber gloves everywhere. There are monkeys with wires hooked into them, and rabbits with their heads immobilized . . . it was probably the most traumatic movie ever. And these poor dogs hadn’t even made it out of the building yet. POPCORN: Kinda funny, dude. We watch a horror movie and hope someone dies, but we watch a dog movie and hope they don’t. Y’know, when I was a kid, I thought that’s what it was like . . . CINEMA: What? POPCORN: When you had a dog put to sleep. I thought about that old black-and-white movie they showed in school, the one about the Holocaust. CINEMA: It was a French documentary, the one you’re talking about. NIGHT AND FOG. POPCORN: Yeah, that’s the one. But it was, like, NIGHT AND DOG in my head. These big gas chambers with a bunch of skulls layin’ around. The dogs were kinda herded into there. Like they were just gonna take a shower. CINEMA: But it’s not like that at all. POPCORN: No? CINEMA: I don’t think that PLAGUE DOGS would be right for you. At least not right now. Have you thought about watching the h-word? POPCORN: Dude, I dunno. CINEMA: You probably can’t even say it, can you? POPCORN: Yeah, I can say whatever I want. I just choose not to. CINEMA: Come on, we can say it together. H . . . Ha . . . POPCORN: Stop playin’, man. Hachi, alright? CINEMA: Yep, that’s it. Hachi. And I’m not playing. It might actually be cathartic for you to watch that movie right now. POPCORN: Might be cathartic for me to beat your ass too. CINEMA: Oh, come on. You blubbered like a nine-year old girl the first time you saw that movie. The only other time you shed tears like that was when Stallone’s car got wrecked in COBRA. POPCORN: That was a bad-ass car, dude. CINEMA: Yeah. POPCORN: And that was a sad-ass movie. CINEMA: Did you know that it was based on a true story, and on a 1987 Japanese film? The director, Lasse Hallstrom, changed a few things around for the American version, called it HACHI: A DOG’S TALE, but it’s basically the same movie. The cage breaks open at the train station and the dog gets loose . . . POPCORN: . . . and Richard Gere, he’s, like, a professor or something. Not a very good one, cuz he can’t afford a car. But he sees this dog when he gets off the train. The station-dude says he can’t keep the dog there, so Richard Gere takes it home – CINEMA: Just for the night. POPCORN: Yeah, just the night. Dude’s wife’s already, like, no way buddy. So he takes it back to work with him, and there’s a Japanese dude that works there. Tells Richard Gere that the symbol on the dog’s collar is the number eight. Like, hachi. Means good fortune. So Richard Gere starts callin’ the dog Hachiko, but he’s really thinkin’ he’s probably done with him now. CINEMA: But that dog follows him home every night, then follows him back to the train station every morning. POPCORN: Damn dog just waits there all day. CINEMA: But it won’t play with him, won’t do normal dog kind of things. He throws the ball several times, but Hachiko refuses to pick it up. POPCORN: Until that one day. Dammit, dude. CINEMA: It’s alright, go on. POPCORN: That one day, Hachiko doesn’t wanna follow Richard Gere to the train station. Can’t figure out why. But then he goes tearin’ after him with the ball. Like he suddenly wants to play. So Richard Gere has the ball when he gets on the train . . . CINEMA: . . . and he’s got the ball when he falls over at school, instantly dead from a heart attack. POPCORN: But that damn dog is just waiting there at that train station. CINEMA: And waiting. POPCORN: . . . and waiting. But Richard Gere’s not coming back. And that dog . . . CINEMA: That dog was still waiting there. The professor’s wife eventually sells the house, starts to move on with her life. Later, just by coincidence, she’s going past the train station. It’s been ten years now since her husband died – ten years – but she looks over toward the station . . . POPCORN: Dog’s still there. CINEMA: Waiting. POPCORN: Dude. CINEMA: And this moved you so deeply that you named your dog Hachi. POPCORN: Yeah. CINEMA: That’s alright. POPCORN: It wasn’t alright that I couldn’t be there when they did it. I mean, I wanted to, I really, really did. But I just . . . couldn’t. CINEMA: I know. It’s alright. POPCORN: Dude, tell me again. CINEMA: She went very peacefully. I was talking to her and petting her, just like you would have, and she didn’t seem to mind that it was me there with her. POPCORN: And you rubbed behind her ears, the way she liked? CINEMA: I rubbed behind her ears, the way she liked. There was no more pain. POPCORN: And then there was peace? CINEMA: And then there was peace. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.