White Dog is part of "my canon," a totally arbitrary and subjective list of my 100 favorite movies. For reviews of other movies on this list, look for the Top 100 category on the right sidebar.
Nearly forty years after it was made, Samuel Fuller's White Dog is timelier and more sobering than ever—an outraged depiction of how white supremacy pervades a society, rotting it away from the inside. That such an indictment takes the guise of a visceral, pulpy thriller only adds to its intensity, though it's probably also (in part) what led to accusations that the movie was racist upon its release. (Calling this movie racist is like calling Fox News progressive; it's antithetical to their very reasons for existing.) The movie's central metaphor is overt but no less profound: it bears witness to the destruction of an innocent creature for the sake of domestic terrorism.
The line between law and larceny has always been fuzzy in America, but that doesn’t mean we need another rote crime saga about how cops and criminals are flipsides of the same corrupt coin. This is a lesson Scott Cooper could have learned before making Black Mass, a blunt and tacky gangster film that offers absolutely nothing new in the way of thematic insight or visceral excitement. As the credits and promotional materials proudly state, the movie is “based on a true story”: that of James “Whitey” Bulger, a notorious South Boston kingpin who partnered with the FBI to take down the Italian mafia, only to exploit those connections to expand his crime empire throughout the city. Despite its real-world origins, though, Black Mass can only come off as forced and generic, developing a bloodsoaked storyline familiar to anyone who’s seen Goodfellas or American Gangster (or Prince of the City or The Godfather or Serpico or pretty much any crime picture you can think of).
The Lumière Brothers and Georges Méliès are often credited with laying the foundation for two divergent paths in film history: a documentary-like inclination towards realism in the former, and an emphasis on fantasy and spectacle in the latter. It is indeed hard to overstate the importance of both traditions in the ensuing century-plus of movies, but there’s a third and maybe equally significant influence that emerged from early French cinema. The crime serials that started populating storefront cinemas in France in the 1910s—by which point the powerhouse production companies (like Gaumont and Éclair) had already been established and urban audiences had begun flocking to movies as the modern era’s pop-culture medium of choice—walked a fine line between mainstream entertainment and subversive surrealism. French artists like Louis Aragon and Andre Breton praised such serials for inscribing the headlong velocity of the twentieth century onscreen.
The human body is a ravishing enigma in Under the Skin—a landscape concealing a vast multitude of secrets. The kind of sci-fi film that uses the possibility of alien life to question the essence of our own, Jonathan Glazer’s third feature churns along on its overpowering audio-visual wavelength, intimating a story of death and alienation through foreboding, cryptic poetry. A cosmic opening resembles 2001’s “Star Gate” sequence and a number of swooping tracking shots bring The Shining to mind, but with his haunting, visceral austerity, Glazer refutes any accusations that he’s just another Kubrick imitator—proving instead that he’s one of this generation’s most exciting and commanding filmmakers.
Alfred Hitchcock’s nearly unquestioned reputation as “the Master of Suspense” (not to mention his broader acclaim by practically anyone who cares about movies as one of the masters of cinema) began to solidify around the time of The 39 Steps (1935). Made at the peak of the director’s British career—he would go on to make four more films in the UK (including 1938’s The Lady Vanishes) before being invited to Hollywood by David Selznick in 1939--The 39 Steps is practically a blueprint for Hitchcock’s later stylistic, narrative, and thematic obsessions. The story of a debonair, wrongly-accused man embroiled in a murder-espionage plot with a coolly erotic blonde, The 39 Steps foreshadows elements (if not entire plotlines) of Young and Innocent (1937), Saboteur (1942), The Wrong Man (1956), and North by Northwest (1959), among others. But, as is often the case in Hitchcock’s films, the narrative foundation doesn’t matter as much as the precise formal construction and witty visual entendres.