Movie Review: Isle of Dogs

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Atari Kobayashi joins a team of dogs to find his lost dog in Wes Anderson’s delightfully odd animated film, Isle of Dogs. (Source: IMDb)

Wes Anderson is one of the most original filmmakers working today. His deadpan sense of humor juxtaposing his unique visual style, his films are one-of-a-kind. After Bottle Rocket bombed in 1996, he continues to create some of the best movies ever made. Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums are the ones that made him gain attention in Hollywood. While The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited are very good yet uneven, I think the coming-of-age romance Moonrise Kingdom and the screwball comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel both showcase his talents behind the camera.

However, 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox is his most ambitious film of his entire career. Not only did he adapt and expand Roald Dahl’s book (in which he loved as a kid), it brings forth stop-motion animation like no other. Isle of Dogs, his ninth film, is his first–and probably, not his last–animated film aimed towards teens and adults (given it’s rated PG-13).

Set 20 years into the future, cats have become the most dominant pet in the Japanese city of Megasaki. Interpreter Nelson (Frances McDormand) translates the meetings of Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), who has banned dogs to a garbage dump called Trash Island due to a canine flu virus. His 12-year-old nephew Atari (Koyu Rankin) steals a plane to find his dog Spots (Liev Schreiber), the first dog ever to be exiled to the island. Once his plane crashes, he is rescued by five dogs–Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and Boss (Bill Murray). Together, they embark on a journey to find the missing dog.

Meanwhile, Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) tries to produce a cure for the virus, and foreign exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) becomes the leader of the dog-ban protests. All the hijinks will decide the fate of Japan.

For someone who has enjoyed all of Wes Anderson’s films, this movie still proves why Anderson is a genius! It’s another movie that has come out at a perfect time. It’s unusual for a Wes Anderson film to contain a political background including protests against a powerful mayor. It also contains a heartfelt message about the means of a man’s best friend. Top it off with flawless animation (developed by hundreds of animators), a massive voice cast, cartoonish yet occasionally gritty action violence and the fast-paced, witty dialogue, this is Anderson at his most beautiful!

It’s hard not to give Alexandre Desplat a break! He brings forth another great film score! Those taiko drums–which play during the opening and closing credits–sound spectacular!

This movie couldn’t have picked a better voice cast. Bryan Cranston is PERFECT as Chief, a stray and leader of the pack. He fears Atari will do something bad to him and his dog friends. Things do get rough (no pun intended) on the island whenever the dogs fight (which hilariously produces a cloud of smoke). But–he eventually gives in and learns how to be a normal, everyday pet. While the other actors playing the dogs are wonderfully deadpan, especially the circus dog Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson), Cranston’s timing hits it home.

Isle of Dogs is far from perfect. There are some narrative flaws and the use of the narrator–when introducing the proceeding chapter (while the words appear in English and Japanese)–becomes a little redundant. Nevertheless, this movie is a painting in motion and something I’ll revisit time and time again.

3.5/4

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2016 Summer Movie Review: Sausage Party

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My thoughts on Sausage Party in a nutshell (Source: Times Union)

How often do we get animated films intended only for adults? Rarely.

10 years in the making, Seth Rogen’s R-rated computer animated darker-than-dark comedy Sausage Party hits the silver screen. He can be really funny as long as he gets it right (e.g. Superbad). However, his humor can get a little too twisted for my cup of tea (e.g. This Is the End). Surprisingly, Sausage Party, directed by Greg Tiernan (of Thomas the Tank Engine fame) and Conrad Vernon (behind Shrek and Madagascar), does tackle religion, politics, and pop culture. Boy, I can’t believe my senses!

At the Shopwell’s supermarket, every single food item can hardly wait to be taken to the “Great Beyond” (home) by the “Gods” (customers). For instance, Frank, a hot dog (Seth Rogen), looks forward to be put on Brenda, a hot dog bun (Kristen Wiig)—sounds weird, I know. He finds out by Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) that the “Great Beyond” is actually a living hell. Scared out of their wits about their fates, Frank and every single food item in the store team up to escape from the “Gods”.

Sausage Party definitely earns its R-rating. It’s not the worst film I’ve seen, but I understand it’s intended to be raunchy to the max. That’s exactly what I got. There are times in which I laughed, but once the jokes start, they never stop. The movie opens up with a colorful musical number (written by Alan Menken, no less!) which sets the tone for the rest of the movie. With an exceptional voice cast (Edward Norton doing a wonderful Woody Allen impression as a bagel), almost all of them fall flat as a pancake. It does have promise in its theme of expecting the worse while having faith in something big. But, it doesn’t help it from being gross, juvenile, racially insensitive, and surprisingly violent. Sausage Party will ruin your appetite.

1.5/4

Movie Review: Birdman

Michael Keaton gives the performance of a lifetime in "Birdman"

Michael Keaton gives the performance of a lifetime in “Birdman”

Nominated for 9 Oscars including Best Picture, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) reminds us why movies are made. People want to see something new, something rather out of the ordinary, and something that will be talked about for many years. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, Gravity) make a technically ambitious movie using various film and editing techniques to make it look like it’s shot in one continuous take (similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope). Michael Keaton is brilliant as Riggan Thomson, a washed-up actor who used to play an iconic superhero called “Birdman” trying to make it big on Broadway by writing, directing and starring in a play based on a short story by Raymond Carver. Days leading up to opening day, he fights for his career, ego, and most importantly, himself. The scene where he holds a grudge on a New York Times theatre critic who is going to give his play a negative review before opening day proves that his performance might win the Oscar. Leading an all-star cast including Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, and Zach Galafianakis, this is a movie that is funny, satirical, strange, philosophical, and moving.

4/4

Movie Review: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

The characters in "Moonrise Kingdom"

The characters in “Moonrise Kingdom”

Wes Anderson’s 2012 romance film, Moonrise Kingdom, was the film that introduced me into his wonderfully surreal world of zaniness. Right from the first viewing, I knew I wanted to watch it again and again and again. Anderson creates a love story that is sentimental (although not sappy), quirky, charming, and oh so joyful.

During the summer of 1965, two pen pals make a secret pact to run off together into the wilderness after meeting a year earlier at a church performance of Noye’s Fludde. Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) is a 12-year-old orphan and Khaki scout living on New Penzance Island. One day, he escapes his boy scout camp with some belongings; making scoutmaster Randy Ward (Edward Norton) feel worried. He makes a call to police captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) to find the missing boy and decides to organize a search party to find him.

On the other side of the island, Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), also 12-years-old, is living with her three younger brothers and her parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray). She’s a reader, likes to look at things through her binoculars, and doesn’t like to be bothered. She escapes the house with her books, binoculars, a record player, and her cat. Then, her parents become involved in this search party before a violent storm comes through the island.

From the first sequence, I knew I was in for a treat. Seeing Wes Anderson’s gorgeously odd style is like watching a painting coming to life or a dream coming true right before one’s eyes. Seeing Bob Balaban narrating the story is like watching a news reporter dressed up as a gnome. Seeing the sweet romance between Sam and Suzy blossoming is like watching two real kids having an affection for each other. The music by Benjamin Britten (mainly “Cuckoo”) resembles their love for one another. Seeing the climactic storm sequence is like something read out of the book of Genesis. This movie reminds us why we don’t get a lot of good romance films that avoid cliches.

Moonrise Kingdom is a symbol of nostalgia, young love and a need to escape. Personally, this is Wes Anderson’s most personal film and will always be my favorite of his films.

4/4