Isle Of Dogs

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Wes Anderson

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Kunichi Nomura, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Akira Ito, and Scarlett Johansson.

It seems almost trite these days to describe yourself as a Wes Anderson fan. The director moved from cult hero into the mainstream with his last movie The Grand Budapest Hotel. The director is almost a genre unto himself now, his films defined by their unique visual style, dead pan delivery of dialogue, and Anderson’s ever expanding troupe of actors. Isle Of Dogs isn’t the first stop-motion animation Anderson has made either, his last one being Fantastic Mr. Fox. For any other director these films would be experiments, or oddities in their CV, but Anderson’s sensibilities lend themselves to the format.

Isle Of Dogs is set in a futuristic, fictionalised version of Japan. An outbreak of dog flu, which is threatening the human population, forces Mayor Kobayashi to exile all the dogs to Trash Island. The place where all the cities garbage goes. The first dog to head over is Spot, the Mayor’s Nephew’s Dog. His Nephew, Atari then steals a plane to fly to Trash Island to rescue his dog, being helped along the way by a pack of alpha dogs.

This movie is a complete joy. I was slightly sceptical going in, I wasn’t sure how much I would get out of the format, or if Anderson would skew too young to hold my attention. I shouldn’t have worried, I was in a safe pair of hands, and the film is captivating and engaging throughout. It feels odd to say, but I believe that this is a film that deserves to be seen on the big screen. The level of detail gone into creating this world is stunning, and the film looks gorgeous. Wes Anderson directs his live action films as if they exist in a dolls house, and this style with way in which depth is used, and the way the camera moves in his film, is an ideal match for stop-motion. If anything it expands Anderson’s vision, allowing him to make a film more epic in scope.

It’s primarily a kids film, but there is a deeper, darker heart to it. It has an emotional core that you’d expect from a film about a boy looking for his lost dog, and whilst the dead pan delivery of Anderson’s cast doesn’t immediately lend itself to cutting straight to the heart, Anderson has crafted a deeply moving film about love, belonging and loyalty. There is darkness here though, which is far from cookie cutter. There are themes of genocide, conformity, and political manipulation, which when paired with the history of Japan brings out a deeper meaning. The kids might not understand it, but there is more going on under the surface of this film than it first appears. It’s this darkness which robs the film of its charm in the final act of the movie. The jokes and humour give way to something more serious, slowing down the pace, and ultimately causing it to drag.

There has been some debate about the film regarding Orientalism. It didn’t bother me at the time of watching, but the more I think about it, there is something there . There is a lot of affectionate homage, and this is a fictionalised Japan which does mean liberties are taken. If there are controversial moments, they hold no intent. There are two creative decisions which grate the most. The first is the fact that unless someone is there to translate, the Japanese language goes unheard and ignored. If they could put subtitles down for signs, they could have put subtitles for the Japanese, it’s a cute creative decision to have other characters translate the news segments, but it turns the other moments the language is used into meaningless nothing. Making it a secondary language. The other element which grated was Greta Gerwig’s foreign exchange student. In a film full of Japanese figures, having the only white one become the leader of the resistance is a bit of a problem.

Isle Of Dog’s is another great movie from Wes Anderson. It’s lovingly made, and looks fantastic. It manages to be both funny and moving, whilst riffing on some more adult themes. The politics might be a bit off, but I don’t believe there was any intent to offend. It’s just a bit blinkered. If you’d like to know more about this check out this article


Lady Bird

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Greta Gerwig

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, and Timothée Chalamet.

Greta Gerwig is best know as an indie starlet favoured by American auteur Noah Baumbach, winning acclaim for her role in Frances Ha. Here, she breaks out on her own with her solo directorial debut, after co-directing Nights and Weekends, directing from a script she wrote herself. Whilst Gerwig has claimed that the film is not auto-biographical, there is no doubt that this is an incredibly personal story, and an incredibly personal film. It’s set in Sacramento, the place where Gerwig grew up, and is mainly concerned with the relationships Lady Bird has with both the place, and her Mother.

Lady Bird is a coming of age story centred around Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, played by Saoirse Roman. A teenage girl living in Sacramento, who is in her final year of high school, trying to figure out what to do with her future and what college to go to. Throughout the year she will have to navigate love, sex, friendships, class, and most importantly her relationship with her mother, played by Laurie Metcalf. She’s a girl who complains about not living in a place surrounded by culture, although she doesn’t know who Jim Morrison is, and wants to go to an Ivy League school despite not being academic. It’s a film about a young woman coming to terms with who she is, and accepting the things that define her.

Lady Bird is a completely charming film. It’s a film made by some one who obviously has such affection for her characters that you can’t help but share that affection. Gerwig has created a world with such well drawn and vivid characters, that even those you only meet briefly feel like old friends. Everyone in the film feels real, they all have a pulse, and each one is a piece of a puzzle that helps you understand Lady Bird, and that helps Lady Bird understand herself. There is a feeling of warmth, to and from the characters, that seems to radiate from the screen and wrap you in a tight embrace.

It’s a wonderfully constructed film too. Not one scene feels over-indulgent, it never over stays it’s welcome. Every frame is there for a reason, and what beautiful frames they are. Set in 2002, the film has the feel of a memory or a dream. The use of grain, and colour, adding to this sense of time capsule, like looking through old photos and saying this is who I was. It’s a feeling I’ve not had since seeing Boyhood. It’s also smartly edited, a scene where Lady Bird comforts a friend, cutting to her Mother, a nurse talking to a patient about depression. It’s this showing and not telling which makes Lady Bird stand out. Helping us understand why someone who so clearly loves their home town, their mum, their school, and their friends seems so intent in rebelling against it all.

If the characters are well drawn, then the actors colour them in exceptionally. Both Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet shine with their limited screen time, but it’s Saoirse Rowan and Laurie Metcalf who really stand out. Their relationship feeling authentically lived in. You leave with the sense that these are people you’ve known your whole life. They both deserve all the accolades they are receiving. It’s hard to believe that Ronan is still so young, and this proves she’s one of the best leading actresses working today and will be for years to come.

If there are any complaints of the film, it comes from having such high expectations. For a best picture nominee, the story and subject matter are very slight. It reminded me of Richard Ayoade’s Submarine. It’s a coming of age story. An incredibly well made, funny, and moving coming of age story, which deals with everyday complexities very well, but still just a coming of age story. Lady Bird says she wants to have actually lived through something. She doesn’t really, but that’s the point. This is only a minor gripe though, and if I didn’t know anything about the film going in, I’m sure it wouldn’t have thought it.

Lady Bird is a warm, funny, and moving cinematic experience. Greta Gerwig has created a world which you want to spend time in, and her troupe of actors have populated that world with such well drawn, interesting characters, you feel like you’ve known them your whole life. I can see this being a film that I’ll return to again and again, like seeing an old friend.