*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

Advertisements

*NEW* THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI REVIEW *NEW*

Three sterling turns and an Oscar hopefully.

A mother (Frances McDormand) personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit.

A brooding country noir riddled with black comedy. If it wasn’t for all the profanity, you could have said it was a Fargo sequel.

Bold, brash and a little long in the tooth BUT a damn good watch all the same.

Funny how three billboards can cause so much trouble? Originally aimed at the local sheriff William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), one woman’s crusade for justice causes a stir among the community.

Frances McDormand is a brilliant actress. I knew exactly what she would bring to the table. That bitter Olive Kitteridge grit. Sharp tongued, outspoken, on the war path and not giving a damn who knows it. A powerhouse performance.

She stole every scene. You really felt for her. Her frosty reception with the town priest and her discussion on the definition of the word ‘culpable’ was worth an Oscar nod alone.

All aided by a sterling script, of course. Penned by none other than the In Bruges (Highly recommended) writer/director Martin McDonagh.

The fiery quick witted dialogue delivered that sinister comical edge as Mildred dealt with all sorts of unsavoury characters as the townspeople soon let their feelings known on the billboards. An awkward trip to the dentist made for tense viewing.

The pacing did test in places. Originally I felt the film slackened when McDormand wasn’t involved in the mix. A compliment to her performance. BUT it also allowed for some sterling turns from a highly talented supporting cast.

Woody Harrelson was excellent in the understated role of Willoughby. A man desperate to keep the peace BUT plagued by his own demons and the system he had sworn to protect. A tragic hero if ever there was one. A performance full of nuance that knocked me for six. Proof that the Cheers star can act.

I wanted more exchanges between the struggling sheriff and the militant Mildred. Despite her anger with the law, there was still respect between them.

Caleb Landry Jones (Get Out) played the simple ad clerk Red Welby brilliantly. His run-ins with Mildred delivered several humourous encounters. Ol’ Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) was wasted in his small role (No pun intended). He did his best BUT then again, this wasn’t his story.

I hope Lucas Hedges (Manchester By The Sea) isn’t going to be typecast in the grieving son role. He worked well with McDormand and I liked the fractured mother/son relationship. It was just a shame that he was pushed into the background. Especially after a heated “family reunion” with his deadbeat dad.

The uneven middle act left me wondering where this was all going. The tone jumped from moments of violent, foul mouthed mayhem to ones of tearful reflection and sorrow. BUT as much as I was getting frustrated, I still wanted to seek out the end game.

The always underrated Sam Rockwell nearly stole the show from McDormand. His character Deputy Dixon was a particular highlight. I loved the journey that this dimwitted racist country mama’s boy went through. A rollercoaster ride if ever there was one. I hated him, I laughed at him, laughed with him and by the end, I felt sorry for the poor schmuck.

The second half of the film took a much more sombre turn than I expected. Especially when we delved a little more into Mildred’s and Willoughby’s background. It turned an incredibly witty black comedy into so much more as everything came to a thrilling and heart rending climax.

The final act and the bittersweet ending spoke volumes as it tackled grief, anger, hate BUT most importantly forgiveness. It didn’t quite deliver what I expected BUT I was left smiling after experiencing this redemptive journey with Mildred and Dixon, in particular.

Something I haven’t felt with any film in a while.

Try not to buy into the awards hype too much and approach the film for what it is. A brilliantly acted and darkly comical tale of anger, grief and redemption.

3.5/5

*NEW* THE GOOD DINOSAUR REVIEW *NEW*

gooddinosaur-india-teaser-poster

Not good enough, I’m afraid.

An epic journey (Well . . . ) into the world of dinosaurs where an Apatosaurus named Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) makes an unlikely human friend.

The thought of having two Pixar movies in a year should have been a treat BUT this latest offering failed to hit the same highs as any of its predecessors.

I tried my best NOT to draw comparisons BUT it was hard not to when the story was so flat and predictable. Don’t get me wrong. It was watchable and there were some nice moments that still cracked the embittered cynic in me but memorable?

The opening with the infamous asteroid avoiding the Earth 65 million years ago teased a “What if dinosaurs weren’t wiped off the face of the planet scenario” BUT Pixar’s only answer to that was farming, apparently.

Really? It was easygoing enough but a little tame as Arlo and his family tended to their crops. Seeing Arlo as the runt of the pack and battling his fear of everything had been done to death. What didn’t help was that Ochoa’s voice really grated against me throughout the whole film and when Arlo howled with Spot (Far too many times), I prayed for them to stop!

Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale/Quantum of Solace) played the role of Poppa well. Sharing his words of wisdom and desperately trying to get Arlo to conquer his fears and make his mark (Well, footprint) on the family wall (And the world, most likely). Awww. Yuck. While poor Frances McDormand (Fargo) was completely wasted in her role as Momma.

What baffled me was the Southern accents? It felt like a Western take on Ice Age. On paper, it had potential BUT it’s a shame that it didn’t really amount to much.That’s NOT to say it was all bad.

Pixar still delivered with their fantastic visual effects. The panning shots as Arlo rode down the river made you feel like you were there with him and there was a beautiful sequence in which Arlo and Poppa run through a field of glistening glow flies (Lame. Hey, it was great). I think that was the only moment where I wished I had invested in 3D. Otherwise, I don’t think the experience would have been enhanced in any way.

Despite its flaws, Disney and Pixar still have a way of dispatching tragedy that can break even the most cynical of critics. A spiritual send off may have been predictable BUT it still tugged a little at the heart strings.

The role reversal of the cavemen being more primitive than their prehistoric predators was a nice touch BUT had the gang NOT heard of a film called Ice Age? The introduction of Spot (Jack Bright) helped set up a nice pairing after a heated scrap. One that gets them lost and far away from home. The relationship helped keep the formulaic journey watchable and delivered the little chuckles as the pair put their differences aside to get back home.

Steve Zahn’s (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) pterodactyl Thunder Clap was probably the only other memorable character. He delivered the laughs but soon overstayed his welcome once he began to repeat the same gag, a mispronounced expression. One that was hardly a “relevation”. Yup, that bad. Things did take a slightly better turn when Thunder Clap decides to put Spot on the menu.

The stalking and chase sequences were racy and picked up the pace. The fins surfing through the skies like something out of Jaws was brilliant. What annoyed me was that Pixar were always able to bring a different take on something we’ve seen before. Inside Out was essentially a different take on Osmosis Jones.

The dinosaur angle wasn’t used enough in this. The idea of T-Rexes being ‘cattle handlers’ was cute BUT entertaining? Not for me. Sam Elliot did what he does best. Grumbling in an inaudible style and sharing his words of wisdom BUT it was far too corny for my liking. It took me until the credits to realise Anna Paquin (X-Men) was voicing one of the other T-Rexes.

Maybe Pixar’s charm is wearing off on me. For the wonderful animation and nicey nicey moments, it was rather disappointing. This ranked en par with the Plane movies. Watchable for the little ‘uns BUT it didn’t soar high enough for me.

2.5/5