*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

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*NEW* CAPTAIN FANTASTIC REVIEW *NEW*

It really was fantastic.

In the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father (Viggo Mortensen) devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and enter the world, challenging his idea of what it means to be a parent.

I wasn’t sure from the bizarre opening sequence whether I was going to like the whole Bear Grylls/Swiss Family Robinson vibe to the piece BUT by the end, I was completely won over.

Endearing, entertaining and heartbreaking. A feel good family film in the most dysfunctional way possible. This might even rival Little Miss Sunshine.

I couldn’t believe that this was penned and directed by that creepy guy from Big Love.

Matt Ross delivers a heartwarming story that tackles grief, rites of passage and the woes of the modern society brilliantly.

The unorthodox upbringing may raise a few eyebrows but it almost worked. A strict regime of self defense, intellectual discussions and living off the land is something that I couldn’t even muster (Let alone the majority of the younger generation).

Their campfire Kumbaya may have been a little corny BUT it established a crazy but close-knit family unit hidden in a nirvana away from the real world. Or was it?

There was a quirky and easygoing feel to the piece and with all the crazy get up they were wearing, you could have mistaken it for a Wes Anderson flick!

No?

It wasn’t long before tragic news forced the family to emerge from their natural habitat. And this was where it won me over.

The cast were perfectly chosen. The only one that grated against me was Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton). As much as you could feel for the poor lad, his incessant screaming and temper tantrums really got on my wick.

George MacKay (Sunshine on Leith/Pride) was very good as the socially awkward Bo secretly applying for college behind his father’s back.

I loved all the contrasts and social commentary; “Why is everyone fat? Are they sick?” There were some witty one liners as Ben and co. couldn’t believe the obesity and mindless brainwashing from the merciless corporations on the masses.

“You would rather celebrate a magical fictitious elf over a living humanitarian who did so much for our human rights?”

I loved the comparison of parenting styles when Ben visited his sister’s family. Kathryn Hahn (Bad Moms) and Steve Zahn (Dallas Buyers Club) were brilliant. Not enough of them in my opinion.

It was hilarious when Ben showed off his children’s knowledge on The Bill of Rights while his sister’s kids were too busy with their heads in their phones or X-Boxes.

The journey was mad BUT entertaining as the family made out they were bible bashers just to evade a curious copper’s questions about the kids’ truancy.

I was startled at Ben educating his youngest on sex, rape and capitalism. Mental. Even crazier when he faked a seizure in a supermarket for OPERATION SAVE THE FOOD so the clan could fill their boots.

The last 30 minutes was where it really hit home when Ben decides to gatecrash his wife’s funeral despite his father-in-law’s wishes.

Virgo Mortensen deserved the Oscar nod. You could see beneath all that intellectual sparring that there was a tormented man struggling to deal with the loss of his wife. Unsure what to do.

Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) was superb as the angry father in law. Blaming Ben for taking his daughter and grandchildren away from him. Deluding them into believing this way of life was acceptable.

BUT as much as you were impressed by the kids’ education and survival instincts, they were completely lost when it came to social interaction and as the story progressed, you realised that they might not be as into the idea as their grief-stricken father.

Things reaching boiling point when Bo finally decides to talk about his college application as Ben begins to re-evaluate himself.

I should have known with Alex Somers orchestrating the score that Sigur Ros’ Jonsi would pop up in this. A wonderful soundtrack.

I was pleasantly surprised and even on second viewing, it still had me through the highs and lows. 

A heartfelt, engaging family drama that is worthy of your attention.

4/5 Just!

*NEW* SWISS ARMY MAN REVIEW *NEW*

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What the hell did I just watch?

A hopeless man (Paul Dano) stranded on a deserted island befriends a dead body and together they go on a surreal journey to get home.

Now imagine if Tom Hanks in Cast Away decided to interact with a farting corpse instead of a volleyball and . . . you still wouldn’t come close to anything that comes out of this strange but bizarrely watchable piece.

Brought to you by the guys that produced that Lil Jon ‘Turn Down for What?’ music video?! Really?! I think it’s fair to say that this isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea. What drove Daniel Radcliffe to do this? He really wants to shake off that Harry Potter image.

The film that triggered walkouts at the Sundance Festival? Well, that can only mean one thing. Let’s give it a watch.

The dark opening lulled me into thinking that this might be a different movie altogether with a defeated Hank (Dano – There Will Be Blood) getting ready to hang himself. Tired, frustrated and alone. The numerous and increasingly elaborate ‘message’ bottles (or boats in this case) highlighting the time our hero has endured on the desolate sand patch.

And then along came Manny (Daniel Radcliffe). Within 10 minutes I wasn’t sure if I wanted to carry on. Especially when the lead protagonist was riding the corpse like a farting jet ski across the ocean. No joke.

However once I got past the endless fart gags and puerile humour, there was a quirky charm that kept me watching. I don’t think it would have worked at all if it wasn’t for Dano and Radcliffe. They were an entertaining pair and for a moment, I almost bought into the madness of it all.

You could empathize with Hank’s vulnerable loner as he confides in the corpse about his own personal problems. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that Radcliffe/Manny does talk. I was getting worried after 20-odd minutes that Dano was just going to be talking to a demented Radcliffe pulling some serious stroke face for 90 minutes.

The make up was actually pretty good on Radcliffe. He played a corpse well. Yeah, I can’t believe I wrote that either. His movements and facial expressions were pretty bang on.

There were genuine moments where I laughed at the pair as they tackled through the tough terrain of the wilderness to get home. Hank’s crazy creations were brilliant. It teased a little Wes Anderson vibe with all the strange gizmos and props that he made out of wreckage, rubbish and trees.

A particular highlight being a staged bus scene in which Hank simulates his chance encounter with the girl of his dreams (Mary Elizabeth Winstead – 10 Cloverfield Lane).  The only problem is that the joke kind of pushed it when the pair pretended to practice a date with Hank dressing up as her. Things getting ever more uncomfortable when they started holding hands. Eurgh.

The two Dans (writer/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) subtlety tackled some existential issues (“What is life?”) in between the farts and sex talk as Hank has to re-educate the naive and inquisitive Manny about the ways of the world.

In one scene, it was funny and clever with the journey being a metaphor for Hank overcoming his own fears and doubts and opening up about his troubled childhood. BUT then that would be completely undermined in the next sequence with something stupid and juvenile.

Cue the college humour with the pair discussing masturbation (that carried heavy Freudian undertones) and the discovery of a picture of a bikini model and Manny fighting to control the rigor mortis in his boner. Yup.

“I think your penis is guiding us home. It’s pointing north”. Make of that what you will.

I couldn’t help but laugh at the ingenious ways in which Hank would discover a new use for Manny from dispensing fresh rain water from his gut to shooting out objects like bullets to help hunt down prey. Using his arms to chop wood and his teeth to shave. NO! I’m not making this up!

It was utterly bonkers. Different, original BUT at the same stroke, weird and all over the place. The pace dragged in parts and the finale brought things to a head that left far too many questions.

And the crazy soundtrack by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell?! Was it a joke or master stroke? (Didn’t mean to rhyme). One thing can be agreed, I’ll never listen to the Jurassic Park theme in the same way again.

Winstead was completely wasted in her role. Anyone could have played her. Although her reaction in the closing moments did pretty much sum up my own feelings:

A mixed bag. I mean it got points for thinking outside of the box and its odd style was hypnotic enough to keep me watching. BUT by the end, I wasn’t sure whether I liked it or not. I still don’t know.

If that sounds intriguing to you, then go for it. IF NOT, swiftly move on.

3/5 (Just)

*NEW* ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL REVIEW *NEW*

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A challenging dramedy in more ways than one. A promising cast reprieve a surprisingly patchy affair.

High schooler Greg (Thomas Mann), who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl (RJ Cryler), finds his outlook forever altered after befriending a classmate (Olivia Cooke) who has just been diagnosed with cancer.

I’m not going to lie. I was left wanting and a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s highly watchable BUT the tone and pace was all over the place.

From the strange opening sequence, I was scratching my head. Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with the Jesse Andrews novel. This film has certainly made me want to seek it out. Just to see if I was missing out on something.

The strange animation reminded me of a Wes Anderson pic. Never a bad thing. We watch as an animated Greg chomps spaghetti while the “hot girl from Pussy Riot” serenades him by playing the harp. In a nutshell, we were being introduced to the quirky inner workings of Greg’s mind. The social outcast. The narrator of the story.

Very strange. BUT intriguing. We watch this crafty chameleon who does his best to blend in with all the social groups; the drama people, the goths, etc. Just enough to keep everyone at bay. I could relate to Greg in more ways than one. Hiding in a film fortress with his “work colleague” Earl.

Thomas Mann was very good as Greg and delivered the role with enough wit, charm and charisma. It made for easygoing viewing as we delved into Greg’s set up. Unable to call Earl a friend with the fear he might reject the label.

Once Cryler was given the opportunity to shine, he delivered. It took a while for Earl to make a mark. Reduced to muttering the word “titties” BUT once the film got going, they made a great duo.

You may remember Olivia Cooke from the hit show, Bates Motel. She was fantastic as Rachel. She delivered a sterling performance and worked well with Mann. The pair had great chemistry.

I loved the classic film references. The nods to François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard ticked all the boxes for the cinephile in me. The funny play on titles was a nice touch. A Sockwork Orange being a particular highlight.

The film video segments reminded me very much of Be Kind Rewind. A surreal mish mesh of Gondry meets Anderson. Low budget indie madness. BUT unfortunately like it’s counterpart, it seemed to suffer from the same flaws.

The tone was very testing. Charming and funny in one instant with Greg’s verbal diarrhea inevitably putting him into more awkward situations and then dreadfully slow and dark the next. Most notably when Rachel’s condition deteriorates.

There’s no easy way to capture an illness and the effects. It was a testing cross examination as we see Rachel’s smile and health fade. Greg doing everything he can to try and keep things quirky and light.

The hour marker certainly took the easygoing pace down a notch as tempers flared and decisions were made. It was acted well and made for engaging drama in parts. BUT the pace hampered an intriguing piece.

What didn’t help was the fact that the little films took the attention away from the actual story between the three friends. I understand that the film making was Greg’s way of coping with life BUT it went on too long. And the final film the pair made for Rachel was a load of rubbish in my opinion.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon didn’t make full use of the fantastic supporting cast. Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) didn’t do a bad job as the chilled history teacher. An incident involving the lads and some soup led to some funny moments.

Molly Shannon’s cougar making advances at the two young men was a mixed bag for me. I found the whole thing strangely uncomfortable. Supplying them with booze and flirting with Greg. Weird.

I wish there was more of Bobb’e J. Thompson as Earl’s brother, Derrick. And cudos to Karriem Sami who managed to make a memorable impression in 30 seconds as the limo driver. That’s all I’m saying on that one. Oh and the Hugh Jackman scene. Brilliant.

Connie Britton was wasted in her role as Greg’s Mom. I know that the parents were never to be the focal point of this piece. BUT with such talented actors portraying good characters, it would have been nice to seen more of them. She set Greg’s story in motion and then only reappeared in the final scenes.

Nick Offerman’s trippy tenured father was very hit and miss for me. Offering a cat to console Greg as he attempts to break bad news . . . Yes. Waffling on about obscure grub. NOT so much.

The closing moments made for tough viewing. Even for the cynic in me. It struck a lump in my throat as Greg struggles with school, life and the possibility of losing a friend he never expected to have.

I felt the final third got increasingly serious and killed the buzz that had helped zipped the film along. And the ending was quite abrupt for me. It just ended.

BUT luckily, good characters, great acting and good moments still make this one to watch. BUT the strange style and uneven pacing hampered something that could have been so much more.

3/5

The Grand Budapest Hotel Review

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Grand . . . to look at but beneath it’s eye catching decor, it doesn’t quite match your expectation and leaves a little to be desired. Hardly a film I would revisit but not bad for a weekend break, if you get my drift.

Right enough wordplay. This is really down to how much of a Wes Anderson fan, you are. Obviously, not as much as I thought. Wes Anderson already has an extensive collection attached to his name; The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou, Rushmore, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom to name a few. I personally didn’t mind Tenenbaums and Zissou but felt they were patchy and a little overhyped. Great to look at, with the occasional laugh but missing something. The film that delivered for me was the underrated stop motion animation adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox. It was eccentric, rapid, zany and hilarious. From the trailers, I hoped the Grand Budapest would follow a similar vein, but alas darlings, it falls short. It’s not all ghastly, however. I may pick at Anderson but one thing I’ve always loved with his films is his ambition and the ability to tell stories in such a different manner.

As soon as the film begins, all the Anderson traits are there (Watch out! It’s going to be a bit film academic-y here); the handmade aesthetic, signature curios and saturated colours. The hotel really is grand, bold, with it’s lavish decor and endless Shining-esque hallways. A feast for the eyes, bright, colourful. Every frame rammed with concierge, people and if not that, crazy props. It’s a little mad to start, but sets up what to expect from an Anderson film. From the get go, we’re presented with a complex narrative within a narrative within a narrative, as we follow several different people (A strange girl in a cemetery, to a renowned author (Tom Wilkinson), to a 20 year flashback of said author in the form of Jude Law in a rendez-vu with a recluse and owner of a failing hotel, named Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham – Homeland) in the middle of nowhere)

The gist, and more importantly, the main story flashes back to the 1930s, focusing on the adventures of the legendary GBH concierge, Monsieur Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) and his loyal lobby boy, a young Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) as they must deal with the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting, as well as battle for an enormous family fortune, all against the backdrop of a dramatically changing Continent impacted by war.

The talented ensemble that Anderson has at his disposal makes for some surprising roles, and expected ones. The main man that stands out is the eccentric, charismatic and flamboyant Monsieur Gustave played with aplomb by ol’ Voldy himself, Ralph Fiennes. His delivery and witticisms are fantastic. There is great chemistry and camaraderie between him and Revolori, who makes an impressive debut performance. They are a great duo to watch. It all starts off quite light, easygoing with Zero being mentored by Gustave, which with the material and extensive cast, Anderson is allowed to wonder off at random tangents. However, it does have the tendency to drag and some parts come off a little hit and miss. As well as there being a checklist for Anderson traits, there has got to be one for the number of regulars he manages to grab to appear in this.

The film kicks off when Gustave is accused of killing the frail Madame D (Tilda Swinton) for her fortune. Kudos to the make up team for turning Swinton into the overanxious, love smitten pensioner. Once the chase is on and backstabbing begins, it all makes for a mad old ride. Anderson excels in his set pieces, which makes up for the more comical moments; most notably in the unintended hotel shoot out, the ski slope chase (which is in a similar vein to that of Mr. Fox). The elongated sequence in which Gustave must meet up with a secret contact in a monastery was a particular highlight and was almost Pythonesque. The elongated sequence with the numerous referrals to numerous concierge members just to get faces in, not so much.

The tone of the film is a little messy. It goes from whimsical, slapstick to dark and macabre. A bizarre and rather intimidating encounter between Madame D’s scorned son, (played superbly by Adrien Broody. If anyone can play a creep, it would be him), his relentlessly grim knuckle dust wearing henchman (gruesomely played to perfection by Willem Dafoe) and the oblivious lawyer (Jeff Goldblum) veers off from darkly comical to a suspenseful cat and mouse sequence with a feeble escape attempt that wasn’t very handy, shall I say? Anderson delicately attempts to balance the tone but at times, it’s unexpected and for a minute, you think, “Am I watching the same film?”. The prison sequence is brilliantly executed and funny to boot, if a little dark with a surprise cameo role. It’s a bit all over the place. Fiennes’ finesse and comic delivery is the much needed carrier and catalyst of this movie. When it’s funny, it brings out the odd chuckle, most notably with a funeral punch up and mad race across the Continent from a crazy collection of coppers under the leadership of the always talented Edward Norton.

I didn’t expect the darker elements, which made up for a meandering pace. However, it felt a little Midsummer Murder-ish to me. A bit OTT. But then this is Anderson. If you can accept that for some of the film’s more crazier and stranger elements and are an avid lover of his previous works, this one will go straight into your collection but if you’re still on the fence, this one might not help in pushing you for or against him. I felt the romance between Revolori and Saoirse Ronan got pushed back to the fold, which questioned its existence to begin with, which is a shame because the pair had good chemistry. There are so many faces and characters that others you want to see more of, disappear or don’t get enough of the screen, while others you can’t help but wonder why they’re there in the first place. The little things are what make it for me with Anderson. I really wanted a live animation of Mr Fox, with its eccentric fast paced zippy chaotic madness. Although I got that at parts, it just fell short for me and what was the point of the opening with the first narrator? It’s Anderson. Somehow not a good enough answer for me.

For the Anderson addicts, right up your street. For everybody else . . . well, it’s different. 3/5.

 Currently ranks #52 out of 152!