*NEW* ISLE OF DOGS REVIEW *NEW*

Did you hear the rumours? What rumours? That Isle of Dogs is pretty good.

Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a boy’s odyssey in search of his lost dog.

Confession time, I’m not the biggest Wes Anderson fan. BUT I loved his take on Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox. His quirky whimsical style suiting the children’s book to perfection. I was really excited to see what his next foray into stop-motion animation would offer.

Did it live up to the hype? (Uh . . . You just put it was good).

All barks have been translated into English while humans speak in native tongues or by interpreter/foreign exchange student/electronic device.

I knew what I was getting myself into.

Alexandre Desplat’s grandiose score and Courtney B. Vance’s (American Crime Story) brooding narration helped liven up a crazy prologue titled ‘The Boy Samurai’. A strange fable about a century long vendetta between a renowned Japanese dynasty (The Kobyashi clan) and .  . . Some dogs. Okay then . . .

Flash forward to 20 years in the future and an outbreak of snout fever has spread among canines in the city of Megasaki with a risk of infecting humans. In a hasty measure by Mayor Kobayashi, all dogs are dumped on ‘Trash Island’. Left to their demise.

The animation was fantastic. The detail, the expressions, the set designs. Brilliant. Matching the zany nature of our eccentric director. Come on, even the title spells; I LOVE DOGS.

The dogs really did steal the show. Their Magnificent Seven Western showdown introduction had me in stitches. Piles of litter rolling across like tumbleweed as they fought rival packs for scraps. I loved the cartoony cloud scuffles.

The cast were superb; featuring a mixture of regular Anderson stalwarts and new faces (Well, voices in this case). Edward Norton was a particular highlight as Rex. BUT each dog had their moment to shine from Goldblum’s gossiping to Murray’s meanderings. However, none of them could top Chief.

Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston delivered that Heisenberg tenacity to the hostile hound. A dog that has never had a “master” and refuses to accept one.

That is until one of those said “masters” crash lands on Trash Island looking for his lost dog.

I loved the endearing relationship that developed between Chief and Atari (Koyu Rankin) as the stubborn stray (initially) refused to help. The lost in translation shtick complimented the film.

I didn’t have an issue with the lack of subtitles as Atari raged in his native tongue. The detail in the eyes said it all. The emotion captured perfectly in a wonderful flashback between him and his beloved dog Spots (Liev Schreiber – Ray Donovan).

And luckily when some of the conversations in Megasaki got a little dense, we had the fantastic Frances McDormand and Greta Gerwig for interpretation.

That was the only problem. When the humans were involved, the pace dragged and; if it wasn’t for Gerwig’s hilarious political activist/foreign exchange student Tracy, my interest would have completely waded.

The maniacal Mayor’s canine vendetta and conspiracy to thwart scientists for a cure was dull as dishwater. I just wanted to get back to Trash Island.

“You should see the other dog. I think he was made of stainless steel”.

The crazy canines and their quest to help Atari was full of heart and had all the Anderson quips and humour we’ve come to love.

Even the kanji was translated during a news report with such phrases as: (Sad funeral) and (Tragic disaster).

“Maybe it’s me, I’m not a doctor or maybe it’s the clutch pedal accelerator in the side of his head but . . . ”

Too adult for kids? I think this could leave the little ‘uns fidgeting in their seats.

Don’t get me wrong, the dogs were fantastic and their hilarious convos were comedy gold BUT the student protests in Megasaki and animal rights debates was a tall order even for yours truly.

The journey was entertaining and delivered a few surprises along the way, with a number of eclectic characters popping up from Harvey Keitel’s cannibal crew to Tilda Swinton’s prophetic pug.

BUT this wasn’t perfect by any means. It was tough NOT to make comparisons to Fantastic Mr Fox, which this fell short of.

Scarlett Johansson was wasted as show dog Nutmeg. She had good chemistry with Cranston’s Chief and it teased a little side story that didn’t surmount to anything.

The final showdown was a little flat as Anderson traded robot dogs and quirky humour for haikus and pretentious speeches in a giant conference hall.

I was a little disappointed at how Chief and his band of merry misfits were strangely absent in the chaotic finale. Shame.

It felt like something was missing. I couldn’t fault the charm and heart behind this zany flick and I still smile thinking of certain scenes BUT it wasn’t enough for the talent at hand and the characters that were at their disposal. I was left wanting.

BUT fans of WA and stop-motion animation will not be disappointed.

3/5

*NEW* SAUSAGE PARTY REVIEW *NEW*

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One of the most outrageous, ridiculous, stupid BUT funniest films I’ve seen this year.

A sausage (Seth Rogen) strives to discover the truth about his existence.

If you’re a fan of Rogen’s crass drug induced humour and want to see him take on Toy Story BUT with talking food, then this is right up your street. Anybody else, serious movies are on Aisle 3.

The opening lulled you into a false sense of security as all the various supermarket food products burst into song praising the Gods (Us) for choosing and taking them to the “Great Beyond”. BUT as the lullaby progressed, I had to do a double take to make sure I heard that right.

And before I knew it, the song turned into something from South Park with a Sauerkraut in the guise of Adolf Hitler plotting the extermination of the J(ew) uice. And we hadn’t even got to the noodles yet.

It really was ridiculous BUT fun. We had the blossoming romance between Frank’s (Rogen) sausage and Brenda’s (Kristen Wiig – Ghostbusters) sexy bun as they prepared to go to the Great Beyond and finally get together. Crude innuendos aside.

However, things don’t go to plan as the pair fall out of their trolley cart. Leading to one messed up little cartoon.

The trolley crash looked like something out of a battlefield. You had a banana’s face hanging off. Peanut Butter scooping up his wife Jelly’s squishy remains. So stupid BUT it got me! With a handful of food goods, Frank and co. travel across the supermarket to discover the horrible truth.

The pair fearing they had upset the Gods by breaking out of their packages and “touching tips” (Relax. Touching hands. Yeah, they have hands).

Along their way, they meet Lavarche (David Krumholtz – Numbers) and Sammy (voiced by none other than Edward ‘Fight Club’ Norton). A perfect encapsulation of the Israeli/Palestinian crisis. The commentary and jibes were pleasantly tongue in cheek “You come into our aisle and take our shelves” and “There are 72 extra virgin oils waiting for me on the other side”.

The supporting characters were fantastic. Bill Hader (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) was hilarious as Chief Firewater. The ancient whiskey that knows all. Salma Hayek delivered her sultry tones to a lesbian taco and Craig Robinson as the ‘un-perishable’ Mr Grits (They call me Mr Grits!). My God!

It took me a while to recognise the voice of Barry the deformed sausage. Michael Cera – where has he been? The scared little sausage who faces the great Beyond. A mad little subplot that I’m surprised I didn’t pick at more. I mean, come on. There was a drug dealer, tweaking on bath salts, who was able to talk to them.

The endless movie references. The unbelievable gore. Even though it was food literally getting prepared. A potato being skinned alive. Carrots being diced and sliced. Brilliant.

Nick Kroll did a decent job of voicing a Douche. No, really. As well as dealing with accepting that all his friends were being cut up, fried and boiled for his Gods’ sustenance, Frank has to fend off a vengeance seeking douche bag who he knocked out of the cart. Killing juice boxes, tequila bottles and ‘roiding’ up to accomplish this vendetta.

The only problem was that his character became increasingly less funny as he kept popping up. His running gag with random fruit appearing at the end of his punch lines was fun BUT it got worse: “How do you like them apples?” Cue a bag of apples turning round smiling. “No, not you!”

If none of this is winning you over (and no, I’m not making any of it up!), then this is definitely not for you.

All the sly digs at Disney were there with all the food smoking herbs, getting smashed and screaming profanities for 90 minutes. There was even a car bumper sticker with ‘DIXAR’ spread across it.

The finale was utterly outrageous. Words cannot describe what I watched. It was f*ked up. It’s not as if Rogen and co haven’t gone for the shock factor before. I mean, This is the End cut it pretty close. BUT I was still surprised of what lied in store.

Mental, stupid, it’s the closest you’ll get to a stoned Rogen giving a Pixar style movie the VIP treatment.

3/5

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON REVIEW

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Did the second instalment do what the first couldn’t?

Was I left fuming yet again? Or did I have to swallow my words?

They’re back. Bigger, badder but better? There’s only one way to find out.

When Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) try to jump-start a dormant peacekeeping program called Ultron (James Spader), things go horribly wrong and it’s up to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans

I will admit straight off the bat. I really didn’t like the first Avengers. I know? SACRILEGE! It just didn’t do it for me. Overlong, mind numbing and overhyped. If not for Tom Hiddleston’s superb turn as Loki and a thrilling 30 minute closing crescendo, I would have given up on the franchise.

I was furious at how rushed the endless superhero entries were. Just to get to the Avengers release date. Okay, the Thor films were fantastic. Hawkeye and The Black Widow didn’t even get an origin story. Iron Man 1 and 3 were good. Don’t get me started on 2.

The numerous Hulk origin attempts with Bana and Norton misfired (I actually liked the Ang Lee blockbuster. What?). Captain America was rushed. I was happy to see more of the superhero fighting in the past. BUT the Winter Soldier sequel did restore my faith a little.

Inevitably after the crazy money that the first Avengers film took, we had another. And after much deliberation and note taking, I can firmly say . . .

Well done, Mr. Whedon. You have won me over.

The opening was racy, fast paced and straight to business. The team finally gelled together and in the zone. The special effects were fast and furious. The overuse of CGI did make things a little too cartoony in parts. But how else are they going to create a nine foot Hulk?!

There were numerous SHIELD references that went over my head in the opening. I knew it had something to do with Marvel Agents of SHIELD but I’m not that big a fan. It might help to recap on Thor or the first Avengers as a certain sceptre is used quite heavily again.

Whedon’s witty one liners zinging left, right and centre like the endless cannon fodder. The banter between the team was top notch. The old fashioned Cap (Chris Evans) telling Stark off for using foul language being an ongoing joke was a particular highlight.

The team dynamic really worked for me and made for great viewing. I mean even the scene in which the gang were trying to lift Thor’s hammer as a drunken party trick shouldn’t have worked but was so funny.

Ultron was a perfect maniacal menace. Spader (Ol’ Red from The Blacklist) applying his gravelly gravitas with aplomb. The animation and detail was excellent.

I liked the brewing romance between Banner/Hulk and The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). The lullaby that they use to calm the Hulk was a nice touch even if it reminded me of Shrek and Fiona. But I honestly thought there was always something between The Widow and The Cap? Oh, that cheeky minx. Anyway . . .

Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson made a more convincing couple as the Maximoff twins than they ever did in Godzilla. My only quibble with Taylor-Johnson was that his character Quicksilver was very much like a character in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Evan Peters played him. He ran really fast. What was he called? Oh yeah. Quicksilver. Hmmm . . . Interesting that. Copyright issues were there?

Olsen was always my Kryptonite even if she has been in some terrible movies. But she did the role of the Scarlet Witch justice as did Kickass.

I wasn’t really bored. It just got on with it and zipped along. Dipping only in a few parts to allow some much needed character development on some neglected heroes. *Cough* Hawkeye *Cough* Black Widow.

Renner had taken to the role well. But he was so one-dimensional. I mean, come on Whedon. Surely you’ve seen Arrow? But without spoiling anything, Whedon finally ventured into his background and gave him more depth. He was able to stand out among the ever-expanding roster of superheroes.

The trippy dream sequences that the Witch uses to play on her opponents’ minds was interesting as we got a little peak into The Black Widow’s past; most notably her training.

It was funny, intense, action packed. Great acting (Check), top banter (Check), cheeky Stan Lee cameo (BIG CHECK!). There were a few surprises to be had. BUT I couldn’t help but feel that there were too many characters from the Marvel-verse being introduced. Paul Bettany’s The Vision was an addition that felt like a mish-mesh of everybody else and didn’t really make as much of an impression as I expected.

And considering the huge ensemble, there were a few faces not to make an appearance. Merely mentioned in a passing comment. I’m looking at you, ladies. Ms Portman and Paltrow.

Inevitably it is all left wide open for more. SPOILERS! Behave. BUT this time round, I cannot wait for the next installment. I’m actually a little excited.

Well done.

3.5/5 With grounds to change to a 4

NOTE: Obviously stay behind and endure the relentless credits for a cheeky ten second teaser.

*OSCAR WINNER* WHIPLASH REVIEW

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The verdict is in. It may have won an Oscar BUT did it get a yes from the Mad Movie Ranter? There’s only one way to find out. Drum roll, please.

An intense psychological thriller + two stellar performances = one happy film goer.

One of the better ones. I have to say J.K. Simmons deserved that Oscar for Best Supporting Actor without a doubt. I originally banked my money on Edward Norton for Birdman. That was until I saw Whiplash.

So what’s it about? A promising young drummer (Miles Teller) enrolls at a cut-throat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor (J.K. Simmons) who will stop at nothing to realize a student’s potential.

Impressive work all round. The leads were superb and writer/director Damien Chazelle pens an impressive feature breaking away from his earlier efforts (The Last Exorcism Part II). He will certainly be one to watch in the future.

Teller (21 & Over/That Awkward Moment) proved he could actually act and act well. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to take him seriously after 21 and Over, That Awkward Moment and Divergent. BUT he was fantastic.

Ironically, however, he was always going to play second fiddle to Simmon’s Fletcher.

I have always rated Simmons as an actor and desperately craved for him to get a meatier role than the tidbits he was given. Bar Spiderman, of course.

And at last, we got one. J. Jonah Jameson, no more! I couldn’t take my eyes off him (Not like that. Behave and eugh!).

The opening sequence perfectly established both characters. Teller’s Andrew, an isolated loner intent on perfecting his craft, the drums. Constantly trying to be faster and better. Pushing himself and his body.

Enter Fletcher from the dark hallway. Slick and charming. Passionate for music. One bad note and he changes in an instant. Storming out into the dark abyss.

Thus starting a psychological battle for ambition and perfection and one of the better films I have seen this year.

Fletcher’s volatile behaviour keeps you on tenterhooks throughout the film.

Smooth and calming one second, demanding and violent the next.

The volatility was intense. In one scene, he throws a cymbal at Andrew’s head and slaps him over and over until he can identify the mistake he has made.

Relentless, dark BUT hypnotic. Some of Fletcher’s earlier put downs were quite comical. Nothing more than any teacher you got in an 80s comedy BUT it soon brews into something much more.

You constantly question why Andrew continues to take such savage treatment from such a deluded instructor?

BUT the more you see of his daily routine and his dinner dates with his dad (Paul Reiser), you soon realise that maybe Fletcher isn’t the only deluded player in the game.

It is a great examination piece on the lengths that people will go to achieve greatness.

By the end, you wonder who the real monster was. Is it Fletcher the volatile perfectionist? Or Andrew the self-isolated masochist who constantly pushed himself until his fingers literally bled?

It was great to see Paul Reiser (Mad About You) back in the mix. He played Teller’s father well but there wasn’t enough of him to be honest. But I think that’s kind of the point. Probing and providing some sort of explanation into Andrew’s psyche and behaviour.

Melissa Benoist (Glee) and Teller had good chemistry together and made their couple seem quite real. Normally, you get the awkward cheesy guff BUT it was played down and done quite well. I wanted more of that dynamic.

The drum solo sequences do go on a little bit BUT that is coming from someone who is not a jazz fan. The songs (when NOT interrupted by the foul mouthed Fletcher dispersing insults or instruments) were very good.

The pace dipped a little halfway through the film UNTIL an unexpected moment. NO SPOILERS! I didn’t see it coming and the finale. Just wow! Everything coming to an explosive end, metaphorically.

It was tense, nail biting and riveting. I came out of the screen NOT wailing, like Fletcher, at another film for “NOT BEING ON MY TIME!” but pleasantly surprised and rewarded.

This gets a 3.5/5 BUT I may change this to a 4.

I am very hard to please (Steady now). To get a 3.5 is pretty damn good for a fellow art lover desperately seeking perfection.

If you want a suspenseful psychological thriller with two brilliant and extremely underrated actors, then I can’t think of many other titles. Invest.

BIRDMAN REVIEW

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It didn’t make me fly for the exit. Strange, bizarre, funny and different. A breath of fresh air.

A promising start for a new year in film. Hopefully.

A somewhat slow opening did leave me a little anxious after the endless hype. So much so that two people left within 15 minutes!

BUT it was merely adjusting you to Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s (Babel) style and setting up the pieces.

Preparation for what would lie in store. A darkly comical acting tour de force as one man descends into madness.

So what is it about? A washed-up actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.

At first glance, the washed up actor shaking off his superhero status and Michael Keaton probably hit home a little too well. BUT what a resurgent return from the Dark Knight. It is not as if he really left. Come on, he was in The Other Guys and Need for Speed (The less we say about that one, the better).

When Keaton’s character was first introduced, I felt he was drowned out by the rather animated and incredibly talented supporting cast. His performance didn’t seem to justify the hype. BUT by the end, oh boy, was I wrong! He was remarkable. A powerhouse performance. Vulnerable in one shot, volatile and violent the next.

The Broadway play setting was a perfect platform to unearth personal problems, dig up rivalries and delve into fractious relationships and affairs. The rehearsals may seem a little repetitive but as we delve more into each character’s issues and flaws, it brings a different dimension and take on that same bit of dialogue and scene. Expertly captured and cleverly written.

This all helped make this simple dark comedy drama turn into something so much more. Riggan has to deal with the stress of the play as well as his inner demon. Taking the form of an avarian comic book superhero with the voicing style of Beetlejuice. Brilliant.

I loved how Innaritu incorporated the “super real” fictional theatre scene into the real world. The meta-textual references were brilliant and really added to the film. The digs at the Avengers franchise and celebrities brought a little grin. The open criticisms in how people don’t want to watch films with long drawn out philosophical talking and how they want big, dumb, action packed blockbusters was spot on!

The cinematography was superb. Emmanuel Lubezki manipulated the camera work and editing to make it appear like one continuous long take. It certainly kept things moving but the 119 minute length did feel a little long at the tooth in parts.

I wonder if Keaton incorporated some of his own troubles into the film. In one of Riggan’s arguments with his “Birdman” alter ego who at this point harassing him to do another Birdman sequel, Riggan yells out, “That was 1992! Get over it!”Coincidentally, the year Batman Returns was released. Hmmm . . .

The supporting cast were fantastic. Consisting of the likes of the flirtatious Andrea Riseborough (Oblivion), the insecure Naomi Watts (The Impossible) and the snidey film critic hell bent on ruining Riggan’s opening night, Lindsay Duncan (About Time).

Once Emma Stone (The Help) was given the screen time, she was (to be expected) very good as Riggan’s drug addict daughter.

Amy Ryan (The Wire) was wasted in her small role. Not enough of her. She had good chemistry with Keaton and I felt more could have been made of the broken family dynamic. She didn’t even interact with Stone’s character at all. Merely popping in lulls after Riggan’s meltdowns.

Zach Galifinakis (The Hangover) played a much more subdued role to what I was used to. He actually got to do a spot of acting as well as delivering the laughs.

BUT the main scene stealer that rivalled Keaton through out the film was Edward Norton (American History X). His portrayal of Mike was fantastic. Egotistical with a penchant for some improvised method acting. Constantly seeking attention and out to undo Riggan’s work, undermining and offering “suggestions”. I couldn’t stop watching him. Scene stealing in almost every turn.

Without spoiling too much, Birdman does get a little random and bizarre in parts as you don’t know how many of Riggan’s encounters and altercations are actually happening.

The ending may split people. But for me I liked it. It was one of those that was open for interpretation. Something that appeared cut and dry but was it?

I mean, this is most definitely a mood piece. If you’re in the mood for something a little different, then I recommend it. BUT if not, then maybe steer clear.

It’s not without it’s imperfections; a questionable pace and a slow opening, along with some irritating drum music did dampen things (BUT only a little). Seriously the drumming got on my nerves. It worked as Riggan reached breaking point, the drumming getting faster and faster as it drew to it’s climax. BUT throughout, it was just racket.

However, once you get past that, it’s a cleverly written multi-layered dark comedy drama that is fantastically acted by an incredible cast. A good piece of film-making that for a moment restored my faith in films.

3.5/5

BUT the more I think about that ending. This may change to a 4. So watch this space.