Wiener-Dog (2016)

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When I saw Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Doll House, Palindromes) had a new movie out, I knew I had to see it. But I had to be ready—in the right state of mind—for the darkness, awkwardness, and sadness a Solondz movie entails. So, I waited till I was couch-bound, sick, and loopy from cold medicine.

Anyway, Wiener-Dog. It’s an homage of sorts to Robert Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar: you know, that horribly depressing and stark French art film where the poor mule has all the different cruel owners. It’s the same idea with Wiener-Dog, except it’s with, yeah, a wiener dog instead of a mule.

The female wiener dog, our hero and protagonist, goes through a number of different owners. Each one gives her a new name. Her names include Cancer, Dootie, and Wiener Dog. With each different owner, we get a different vignette, and we see our hero the Dachshund go from a wealthy suburban family’s kid (Keaton Nigel Cooke) to an awkward do-gooder Veterinary Assistant (Greta Gerwig) to a developmentally disabled husband and wife (Connor Long and Bridget Brown) to a failure of a film professor (Danny DeVito) to a bitter elderly woman (Ellen Burstyn). Each owner is too dysfunctional in their own special way to care for and keep the poor wiener dog, and in every vignette, human hangups prevent our hero from ever enjoying a stable home.

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Wiener-Dog has its hilarious moments as well as its heart wrenching, the world-is-a-cruel-horrid-place moments. It’s definitely a lot funnier than Au hasard Balthazar, but then again so is The Virgin Spring. It also might be even sadder, in its own weird, deadpan way. There’s something so perfect about the wiener dog. In spirit, it seems far and beyond superior to the humans that determine its life. If you have a dog, you’ll be hugging, clasping, and saying, ‘I’d never ever treat you that way’ to it after seeing Wiener- Dog. Affective, the film is, with Solondz’s signature dark humor keeping the sadness in check.

The scene where Greta Gerwig rescues the dog right before it’s about to be put to sleep at the vet’s is pure teary triumph.

The scene where the dog is fed a granola bar by a kid who doesn’t know any better is familiar, disastrous, and cringe-inducing.

Overall, the movie is loaded–it’s rich–with so many different elements. It philosophically posits the question, What are dogs in human lives even for? It lampoons, if not indicts, film school and doctrinal screenwriting approaches. Danny DeVito plays one sad sack. I loved the scene where his students tear him apart behind his back, ridiculing his tastes and achievements. There’s an awfully tender love story between Greta Gerwig, the dog’s potential best owner, and Kieran Culkin. There’s a hilarious performance by Michael Shaw as a controversial New York artist whose first name is Fantasy.

It’s a simple story, yet very complex in the emotions it plumbs the depths of.

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I recommend it. It’s an experience.

Live Girls by Ray Garton

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IMG_3017Back in 1987, New York City’s Times Square was still a sordid place: pre-Giuliani, a myriad of flashing neon Xs, the setting of Taxi Driver, of Basket CaseThis Times Square is where Ray Garton’s forgotten paperback vampire gem takes place. What if vampires infested the peep shows, strip clubs, and porno theaters of Times Square? That’s the premise of Garton’s first original novel (his only other book out at the time was the novelization of Tobe Hooper’s remake of Invaders From Mars).

I’d venture to declare Live Girls the greatest vampire glory hole book of 1987.

Meet Davey Owen. He’s an employee of Penn Publishing, which churns out lowbrow action fare aimed at gun maniacs. He’s always involving himself with the wrong women, as his would-be girlfriend and co-worker, Casey, often reminds him. After a bad break up, Davey finds himself at a peep show joint called Live Girls, which offers a little more than peeps, if yaknowwhatImean.

The sequence where Davey first gets vampirized, via glory hole blowjob, is a great erotic merging of fear and sex; Ray Garton demonstrates that the two go hand in hand. The deliciously sleazy passage creates a lurid, grainy, soft-lens-on cinematic effect in your mind. “Her small rib cage was lightly outlined against the skin below her firmly uplifted breasts, two scoops of vanilla flesh topped with generous dollops of rich chocolate that had hardened in the center.”

After the incident at Live Girls, Davey’s skin goes pale. He develops new, unusual sleep patterns. He loses his appetite, and he can’t stay away from Anya, the woman from Live Girls who bit him.

Meanwhile, a gritty New York Times reporter named Walter investigates the brutal murder of his sister and niece. His brother-in-law seems suspicious, and Walter follows him to Live Girls, where he uncovers a bona fide bloodsucker conspiracy.

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Content-wise, Live Girls delivers everything you could want from a trashy vampire novel.  It’s loaded with action and lurid thrills. I especially love the slithering, monstrous, winged vamps that lurk in the basement of Live Girls: “Something long and covered with glistening open sores slid along the wall . . .” Its pacing and abundance of pretty decent dialogue moves you along comfortably, too; you could, in fact, as Dean Koontz did, finish it in “one bite.” The story’s climax is wonderful. It’s a great showdown with plentiful grue. But the two things most admirable about Live Girls: one is Garton’s evocation of place, as he teleports you right to the depths of a sleazy New York paranormal underbelly. The other is the POV of a vampire character. You feel what it’s like to become a vampire through Davey. You get the sensations, the sights, the smells, the dread . . . the hunger.

Talk about a gem, from a great time for horror paperbacks and vampires. Both paperbacks and vampires were still cool in 1987. It’s a good, good thing Live Girls is back in print.