Tuesday, 11 December 2018
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Movie review: Sweet guide dog documentary a definite ‘Pick of the Litter’

“Pick of the Litter” – ★ ★ ★ ½

You think all those adorable online videos of puppies can’t be topped for cuteness?

Watch the beginning of “Pick of the Litter” as five freshly baked Labrador babies pop out of the oven and try to bark for the first time.

These pictures are worth a thousand clicks.

“Pick of the Litter,” Dana Nachman and Don Hardy’s fourth documentary as co-directors, traces two years of training that these five Labradors go through to qualify as the Green Berets of the canine world: guide dogs for the blind.

Eight hundred pups they’ll test today, but only 300 will go all the way.

We quickly get to know the dogs: Primrose, Potomac, Patriot, Poppet and Phil.

They practically begin basic training on Day One at the Guide Dogs for the Blind’s San Rafael, California, facility.

At eight weeks, they go to human “puppy raisers” for another 16 months of training and testing to become guide dogs ­– if they meet the rigorous, exacting standards.

But something strange happens halfway through the doc: It goes full-tilt “Canine Hunger Games” on us. We root for our favorite dog with a cute P-name to make the cut.

Then … bam!

Our pooch gets “career-changed,” a training euphemism for being deemed unsuitable for guide-dog duty.

Helen Jane Long’s lovely music plays and a scoreboard appears on the screen to pay tribute to the fallen candidate.

Who will be next?

Although “Pick of the Litter” runs an ultra-brief 81-minutes, it begins to drag in the final third, perhaps because Nachman and Hardy focus mostly on the training, and don’t allow enough time for audiences to know the dogs better.

We do come away with an increased respect, if not downright awe, for the dedicated humans who put the candidates through grueling tests to ensure people with diminished vision pair up with nothing less than canine superheroes.

A visually impaired man describes how on 9/11, his guide dog brought him down 28 long floors to safety.

“I know he saved my life,” the man says, his lips quivering.

A woman recalls how her guide dog disobeyed her command to move forward, because he saw the oncoming car that she could not.

Just try watching “Pick of the Litter” and not resort to a tissue or two. Or 10.

Note: A portion of opening-night (Friday, Sept. 29) ticket sales will benefit Guide Dogs for the Blind, the organization featured in the film, at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago. (Go to musicboxtheatre.com.)

• • •

A documentary directed by: Dana Nachman, Don Hardy Jr.

Other: A Sundance Selects release. Not rated by the MPAA; for general audiences. At Chicago’s Music Box Theatre. 81 minutes

Source: https://www.dailyherald.com/entlife/20180927/movie-review-sweet-guide-dog-documentary-a-definite-pick-of-the-litter

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