Waldo the Dog (2010)
Directed by Kris Canonizado
One of the benefits of running The Jaded Viewer is that you get contacted to screen a lot of independent films. Some are terrible, others middle of the road and sometimes on that rare occasion you get to see a film that completely makes you go WTF! that was crazy awesome.
Waldo the Dog is one of those films that was WTF crazy awesome.
Director Kris Canonizado gave me the opportunity to view his debut film and it's one of hell of a ride. Waldo the Dog is guerrilla filmmaking at its most raw. Echoing the 90s indie vibe where independent filmmaking was scorching hot, it has that throwback feel of DIY creativity I enjoyed back in the day. No film permits, blurred reality and improvised dialogue. Canonizado has made a film with oddball characters that's part rom com, part drama and 100% weird. It takes a subject matter that's super duper sensitive and runs it in a gauntlet of emotion.
Waldo the Dog will be unlike any other film you have ever seen. It's the equivalent of seeing a fancy car get wrecked, miraculously repaired and then totally wrecked again. As much as you'd like to look away you can't. It's just so mesmerizing to watch.
A guilt and shame ridden mentally unstable young man wears a dog mask to cope.
Produced by Shane Ryan (of Amateur Pornstar Killer fame) Waldo the Dog is clearly in the same meta world. The film takes place around San Diego, California and revolves around a world that is pure wacky suburbia. The opening scene of Waldo (Rook Kelly), is him in his dog like mask which gets the first WTF out of you. Without catching a breath. a disturbing rape scene shows up that gets you completely weirded out even more.
The next successive scenes are of Waldo doing his daily routine. He's a slightly large man, hooded sweatshirt, ripped vest and he wears gloves. He panhandles throughout the neighborhood and after getting a generous donation signs up for a wrestling school. At 100% mute, this proves hilarious. We see him collect bottles and cans so he can get cash. He also goes dumpster diving and aimlessly watches the pedestrian traffic. In one scene that had me cracking up Waldo gets enough cash for a trip to Del Taco (?) and eats a burrito. As he eats he dances. It's insanely funny.
Later, Waldo rescues a beautiful girl (Jaquelyn Xavier) from a group of rapist thugs and they begin to form a friendship. One begs to question why a girl would start to get to know a man who wears a dog mask and doesn't talk, but I like to think it's all magical realism (it's the excuse I give something that I think doesn't make sense).
Jaquelyn tries to figure out this goofy buffoon, having solo conversations with Waldo as Waldo answers her back via pantomime and gestures. Soon they are frolicking to McD's, becoming professional swingers (err I mean swinging on a playground swing), going to the movies and becoming best buds. Oh yeah, after every "date" Waldo likes to pleasure himself outside Jackie's window. I thought you should know.
Waldo's wrestling skills improve while he's in his pseudo relationship and he's ultimately kicking ass. But all this can't last and as the last half hour approaches, we get some odd reveals as our mute becomes unmute. And in the last 10 minutes are a frenzy of WTF as ultimately we get an unmasking that proves disastrous.
First let's talk about the performances. Rook Kelly as Waldo is superb. His mute performance has gotta be one of the best mute performances by a man wearing a dog mask...well ever. Obviously, all the scenes and dialogue are improvised with some direction from Canonizado but Kelly makes it seem effortless. He's clearly doing his best Marcel Marceau and acts a range of emotion from sad to happy to angry. You have to realize that he and Jaquelyn are acting where the world doesn't know they are acting. The other people they interact with are probably going WTF. Why is this man wearing a rubbery dog mask, hanging out with a hot girl and is being recorded by a film crew?
I realized Waldo had entered Borat like territory. We're watching a movie where some of the people in it don't know it's a movie. There's a bit of surrealism in all this. The reactions all become priceless for all involved.
Jaquelyn Xavier performs under some odd circumstances. Definitely improvising her lines has gotta be tough where her counterpart is mute. Some lines come off rehearsed while others flow naturally. It's a testament to her ability to make her performance feel real in a world full of absurdity.
At the end of this movie, I realized I had not just a seen a day in the life of Waldo, a seemingly crazy masked anti-hero. I was actually watching an evolution of a man who was plagued by a guilt of something he had done. Because of this he needed to punish himself in different ways. When Waldo finally talks, he goes all Silent Bob and asks a profound question. From the physical, be it getting pounded on the mat by wrestlers or by a group of children on the playground, Waldo is looking to be punished for what he had done. His mental block of guilt was to create the Waldo the Dog persona and live a life of poverty, though seeking forgiveness from his victim. At the end you feel obligated to pick a side. Are you still pro Waldo or anti Waldo now that you have ALL the information.
It's an emotional journey of redemption, albeit it is done with one camera and long continuous shots, there is a solid story in Waldo. That's not to say it's perfect. I'm willing to forgive the budget and the guerrilla style but my biggest gripe is the length. The movie is 2 hours long when it should be 90 minutes. I can see why Canonizado dragged out the monotonous life of Waldo to show us how Waldo has slowly descended himself into nothing, but after the 3rd or 4th scene of seeing him doing nothing, I was getting aggravated. My attention span can only take so much.
With all this serious talk, I want to emphasize Waldo is full of ridiculousness that has gotta be seen to be believed. From the wrestling training (Tough Enough doesn't look like this) to a $1 for a kiss pier scam, it's full of moments of genuine ha ha's. I can't believe I am writing this but I actually got comfortable watching a masked man in a rubber dog mask for 2 hours. That's saying something.
Canonizado's debut film is mesmerizing and is destined to be a cult classic. I can only imagine the undertaking to make a film with such difficulty. I had imagined this would be full of shaky cam and amateurish cliches but somehow it doesn't feel that way. It felt like a documentary at times, but also like a cohesive pro movie as well.
So like I said, you have to pick a side. Ultimately, the success of Waldo the Dog is whether or not you like it's main character. Throughout the 2 hours of getting to know Waldo, I liked him. From his successes (scoring the hot girl!) to his failures (he's not gonna be on RAW anytime soon) I felt for Waldo even after his ultimate evil is revealed.
Waldo the Dog is a film that will stick with you long after you've seen it. It's a breakout film by a talented director who dares to show you a glimpse of the absurd fiction of America. You might not always know where to look for it, but Kris Canonizado is a guide to lead the way.
Nothing to graphic that a 8 year old couldn't handle.
The reveal at the end and pretty much the entire movie
The Jaded Viewer's Final Prognosis
I can't say enough good things about this film. I hope anybody who loves independent film will check this out. It deserves a cult following.
Check out the trailer below.