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Space Dogs review – cosmic canine mission lacks gravity | Documentary films

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Ostensibly an alternative biography of Laika, the stray mongrel who became the first cosmonaut, this film faithfully tracks her from her time on the streets of Moscow to her lonely demise in low Earth orbit. Incredible archive footage shows us Laika and a number of other dogs being subjected to a relentless barrage of exercises designed to mimic the incredible stress of space travel; it’s hard not to be affected by the footage knowing, as we do, that Laika is being led to an excruciating end.

Space Dogs documents a cruel period in human history but the bleak tone the film-makers pursue throughout may not be the best way of dealing with it. It is designed, perhaps, to numb you to the horror of what you are witnessing but the unspeakable acts are presented without comment or context.

There’s a secondary narrative here, with Laika’s story interwoven with the tale of a pair of strays navigating the barren streets of modern Moscow. Their story, presumably, is intended to mirror Laika’s intrepid journey, but the unremarkable footage acts as a drag on the film’s momentum.

Narration is sparingly employed throughout, which is a shame given the quality of the writing; this is one of those films that could actually do with more exposition and insight. We see, for example, the post-mission project designed to memorialise Laika as a symbol of Soviet ingenuity – but we don’t hear from the men responsible for this state-sponsored torture. A defence of their actions would have given this otherwise beautiful-looking film a third dimension it’s lacking.

Laika’s dead body is wonderfully described as a “cosmic flotsam” over the opening credits. It’s hard to shake the feeling that a genuinely arresting documentary was cast adrift somewhere along the line.

• Space Dogs is available on Mubi on 10 September.

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12 Hour Shift review – guts and gore in cheerful bad-taste horror | Horror films

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In the 90s, everyone had heard the urban myth about black-market organ trading: the story of the poor chump who went to a party and woke up in a bath of ice minus a kidney. Now, with this blackly funny, cheerfully violent bad-taste comedy-horror, director Brea Grant riffs on the legend. Her film is set in 1999 in the ER unit of an Arkansas hospital where one of the nurses, Mandy (Angela Bettis), runs a side hustle in organ trafficking. Whenever a patient who is unlikely to make it is wheeled in, she earmarks them for harvest – and has even been known to nudge victims along with an injection of bleach.

Mandy arrives for the night shift dead exhausted. Patients assume that she is overworked, but the truth is that Mandy is addicted to opiates, slipping vials of morphine into her scrubs pocket. She bankrolls her habit with the organ business, working in cahoots with nursing colleague Karen (Nikea Gamby-Turner). Bettis is terrific, beautifully underplaying Mandy’s bone-dry sense of humour: she is openly contemptuous of patients and their families, rolls her eyes at colleagues and refreshingly has zero anxiety to please. And while she may bump off the odd patient, she is also highly competent.

She is not, however, a criminal mastermind. Things go seriously wrong when Mandy recruits her cousin, textbook airhead blonde Regina (Chloe Farnworth), who botches a kidney pick-up. After misplacing the organ, Regina puts on a nurse’s uniform and decides to find another patient to kill. It’s a throwaway film that perhaps I shouldn’t have enjoyed as much as I did, but Mandy is such a deliciously sour character.

• Available from 25 January on digital platforms.


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19 Moments From "Sylvie’s Love" That Are So Sweet It’s Not Even Fair

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“See you later, alligator.”


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Which Crazy Rich "Bling Empire" Cast Member Are You?

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“It’s really hard to flex your abs all day long.”


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