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By midlandsmovies, Aug 5 2018 07:00AM

Isle of Dogs (2018) Dir. Wes Anderson

Pretentious. Hipster. Smug. You name it, I’ve said it about Wes Anderson films. His pop-up book aesthetic and cardboard characters have never done it for me sadly. Where there have been successes – my favourites being 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums and 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – the bold colourful stylistic choices from the director found fans from across the spectrum, but for me the hollow “model railway” compositions have often been a side-show nuisance. And with a similar look to all his output I’ve consistently struggled to discover much development beyond his first few movies.

But – and it is a real big but – his latest film Isle of Dogs is nothing short of a triumph. And I’m as surprised as anyone. This stop-motion animation has all the director’s usual norms, yet here they are in the service of a shaggy dog tale that works on many levels.

Loosely inspired by seeing a road sign for the Isle of Dogs in Tower Hamlets (England), Anderson has set his film in a near-future Japan, where a canine-flu outbreak sees dogs banished to Trash Island by Mayor Kenji Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura). 6 months later, the Mayor’s young nephew Atari then crash lands on the island as he searches for his exiled dog called Spots.

Saving Atari from a less-than-pleasant rescue team is a pack of hounds comprising Bryan Cranston as Chief, Edward Norton as Rex, Bob Balaban as King, Bill Murray as Boss and Jeff Goldblum as Duke. The group agree to help Atari in his search as a journey begins across the bizarre island.

Anderson’s “flat” shooting style works perfectly here and is reminiscent of Asian shadow puppetry seen using Kageboushi (silhouette). This ancient form of storytelling and entertainment uses back-lit cut out figures and although Anderson’s brilliantly animated scruffy dogs have more shape to them, his 2-D worlds sit nicely within this cultural look.

As a prelude to cinematography with use of slides, music and voice, Anderson’s film uses this influence to make his film simplistic but also cinematic. The voice work of established Anderson veterans is superb – with a world weariness coming across in each of their husky tones. Their gruff smarminess is complimented with real emotion and pathos whilst Anderson doesn’t scrimp on the silly comedy at times too.

A stylistic choice to avoid English subtitles on the Japanese speakers further emphasises the shared cultural understanding and far from appropriation, I saw the film’s focus on Asian ancestry as a love-letter to its many respected charms, beliefs and customs. The animation and design are also top-notch. Each dog has its own persona whilst their tribulations through garbage factories and fights with other packs are excellently conveyed in sequences filled with Anderson’s dry wit.

Another fine detail is the multi-faceted nature of the movie. One could read it as a cultural discussion, an auteur animation, a fight against power, a look at family units or just simply a tall children’s tale and all would be valid. Like the best of Pixar – Isle of Dogs takes universal ideas and delivers them back to a young and a mature audience to interpret without flagrantly pandering to either.

For someone who was incredibly indifferent about this director’s previous work, it has been more than a pleasant experience to find a film that satisfies me like most of them satisfy his fans. Cameos from Greta Gerwig, Tilda Swinton and even Yoko Ono round out the eclectic cast and provide some unique depth to the more basic story. So, the Isle of Dogs comes highly recommended from me and I found this surprising litter of canine characters and prevailing pedigree pups an absolute joy throughout their adventures on Trash Island.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Feb 23 2016 04:12PM

Trumbo (2016) Jay Roach

Directed by Austin Powers-helmer Jay Roach this film sits with The Big Short as both Oscar nominated and from a director whose previous successes were mainly in light-hearted slapstick entertainment. Leaping from comic to tragic, Roach’s film features Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston as the successful 1940s Hollywood screenwriter blacklisted in a post-war and paranoid America.

His outspoken views on Communism place him in the firing line of columnist Hedda Hopper (a scene chewing Helen Mirren) and legend John Wayne (a good facsimile by David James Elliott) who in their own ways persecute Trumbo and his friends for their provocative opinions. After being called to testify at the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the group refuse to answer questions and are vilified for their views with Trumbo receiving an 11-month prison term.

The film intersperses its historical locations with newsreel footage which in turn is spliced with real-life recreations of the trials. Also, alongside a clever change in aspect ratios (and even some cleverer colour to black-and-white film techniques) it evokes and comments upon the media of the era. The film attempts to cast its eye on hysteria and how audiences are swept along by the moving images and powerful imagery of cinema and eventually the soundbites of television. With Trumbo and his group being accused of being traitors, some of those accused switch sides to inform on their “comrades” in order to protect their own careers. After leaving prison, a broken but still upbeat Trumbo gets back on the horse to write screenplays under a variety of pseudonyms with the constraints of his freedoms still effecting his family.

Kudos should go to a great support cast including Michael Stuhlbarg as actor Edward G. Robinson, Alan Tudyk as Ian McLellan Hunter and the composite character Arlen Hird who is played with gusto by a superb Louis C.K. As Trumbo starts to receive some acceptance of his work, Academy Awards still have to be given to others as he remains excluded from the studio system. Roman Holiday wins Best Story and years later The Brave One brings a second accolade before finally the acceptance of his return is heralded – partly spearheaded by Kirk Douglas during the production of the film Spartacus.

A special mention should go to Diane Lane as Trumbo’s wife Cleo who maintains a human connection in a celebrity-based world and helps show how the witch-hunt had real ramifications on their family, careers and relationships. Involving the children in his work increasingly depicted their domestic desperation although a slightly cynical choice to show by the director Loach.

Cranston deserves his plaudits in an Oscar-nominated performance although after doing some further research, the film has the double problem of fusing together some real-life characters into one (understandably so I guess) but the bigger issue is it’s such a one-sided biography. Trumbo is shown as a First Amendment freedom fighter and some of his questionable ideologies and support for the regimes of Stalin and his cohorts are not even referenced. Ironically, given the style it is shot in, it may be far too black and white for some with the grey areas of the debate being actively avoided.

That said, Trumbo is a fascinating look at a troublesome time when even being part of a fringe group could get you banned from working and its themes of injustice and the trashing of reputations by baying mobs are still prescient today. The crowing of herds echo online Twitter campaigns where political freedom is second to “offense” and so Trumbo’s focus on liberty and uncontrolled free-thought will make current audiences sit up and take a long hard think about how these issues are sadly still very much alive today.


Midlands Movies Mike

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