Tag Archives: Alaska

Disney’s Togo

Man, Willem Dafoe is really on a roll this year, not to mention the last two decades in general. No other actor out there I can think of has balanced a career between appearing in edgy, fucked up arthouse and experimental stuff and then more accessible, Hollywood and conventional fare too with as much energy, enthusiasm and variety. The only thing he hasn’t done is made the jump to television, but everyone has their reasons. With Disney’s Togo he proves for the third time this year (see Motherless Brooklyn and The Lighthouse) what a commanding, distinct presence he has in either lead or supporting roles. Here he plays Leonhard Seppela, a real life Norwegian sled dog breeder whose unshakeable bond with his lead dog Togo is the stuff of legend and countless grabs for the Kleenex box throughout the film.

Togo was the runt of the litter, as we learn through decade ago flashbacks between the beginning of their friendship and a furious race through the Alaskan wilderness to bring medicine back for children dying of an illness outbreak. If this story sounds familiar it’s because it is: Another dog named Balto was slapped with most of the credit through happenstance it seems, but this film definitely makes it apparent that Togo was the uncanny and determined hero who turned the tide amongst one of the fiercest storms in Alaskan history.

Dafoe is so versatile he can play the freakiest, most otherworldly villains or the most affable and down to earth regular dudes. He’s an initial pragmatist here whose borderline callous way of training dogs is upended by Togo’s resilience and spirit that burns like a star’s reflection in the Alaskan ice. These two beings were made for each other and in the last haul of their respective lives (Leonhard looks to be in his late sixties and Togo is over twelve) they pull off a miraculous journey of courage, defiance and heartwarming friendship. It isn’t without its dangers or peril though, there’s a sequence where they have to navigate an inlet Sound coated in ice violently shattering all around them that is so harrowing to watch you won’t breathe until the outcome. That’s the power of these animal stories though and I suppose you have to be someone who loves all these creatures or a ‘dog person’ to be affected by it, but really at its core it’s about friendship no matter the species, not giving up on one another at any stage of either party’s life and how that can carry you onward. Both Dafoe and every dog in his team sell that and make this one of the best films of the year. A special mention to Mark Isham’s beautiful score and the use of emotionally galvanizing song ‘On The Nature Of Daylight’ by Max Richter in the third act, last heard in Scorsese’s Shutter Island at an equally penultimate point in the narrative. This one alone is worth the price of Disney+.

-Nate Hill

Indie Gems with Nate: Wildlike

It’s random netflix time again, where I decided to take a look at Wildlike, a film I’ve never heard of before, and one that I will not be getting out of my head anytime soon. I have a certain affinity for films set in the wilds of the pacific northwest, films that use nature and scenery to accent themes relating to humans (eg. The Grey, Into The Wild). I also saw Bruce Greenwood on the poster, and that guy just seems to have a head on his shoulders when it comes to choosing scripts, so off on this journey I went. Newcomer Ella Purnell is astounding as 14 year old Mackenzie, sent off to live with her uncle (Brian Geraghty) after her mother has a breakdown following a family tragedy. The poor girl goes from the frying pan into the fire though, when it’s revealed that her is sexually abusing her, and may have in the past. The abuse shown in this film is not loud or violent, nor is it melodramatic or designed for shock value. It’s quiet, frank and subtle, the damage of it measured in a glance, a tear streaming down a cheek or a barely percievable shift of weight from Mackenzie when he looks at her. Geraghty is a handsome dude, nowhere near the bespectacled, paunchy clichéof abuser so often seen. He plays it straight, a pleasant and agreeable fellow who can’t even comprehend the kind of damage he’s doing. The scenes of abuse themselves are quick and fleeting, made all the more uncomfortable by how intimate they seem. This is the closest to what I’d imagine realism with this sort of thing looks like, and i had trouble not turning away. When she can’t bear it any longer, Kenzie makes a run for it into the nearby town, hiding out and eventually befriending lone hiker Greenwood, who is healing from wounds of his own. Kenzie is confused and broken from what has happened, and the filmmakers know that when this befalls someone whose brain and soul are not developed enough to understand it, they act in strange ways. Purnell is heartbreaking and should have been in contending for some sort of award. Going from almost no film work to lighting up the film with this brave, staggering turn was something I was honored to see unfold on my humble iPad screen. Much of the story unfolds in the breathtaking Alaskan wilderness, the camera capturing misty mountains, verdant landscapes and little coves that ferries weave in and out of. You just have to contrast this type of subject matter with beauty of some kind, and Kenzie’s journey takes her from darkness into the possibility of light, surrounded by the natural world and the companionship of her new friend and protector. Most of the time it’s just the two of them out in the desolation, aside from when they meet a kindly group of campers, including Ann Dowd, an incredible actress who seems to be riding some sort of comeback these days. Films about this sort of thing range all across the board, from hamfisted pulp revenge, to tender and inquisitive documentation. This one respectfully shows you the kind of irresponsible, selfish and sick behaviour humans are capable of, particularly towards the ones they are supposed to love and protect. It also looks at kindness and compassion that can come from a complete stranger and shelter those who have been broken. There’s both light and dark in this world of ours, and Kenzie meets them both face to face. Purnell owns the film, and I think we will see great things from her. Couldn’t recommend this film, and her performance, enough.