Tag: wes anderson

Isle of Dogs


Isle of Dogs (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

As a visual exercise, it cannot be denied that “Isle of Dogs” excels. Its stop-motion animation is a dream to observe even without sound, the dogs are aww-shucks adorable (even the ones that bite), images unique to Japanese culture inspire curiosity, and there is courage in employing different styles of animation when, for example, we are watching something through a television or looking into someone’s memory. And yet, like a typical Wes Anderson film, the technical excellence is unable to overshadow the fact that it left me cold emotionally. While not an intolerable experience, I was not invested in its core story.

The picture is supposed to be a love letter to dogs, why dogs are a man’s best friend. In a world where all dogs are exiled to a place called Trash Island after an outbreak of canine flu, it is bizarre that the material offers minimal emotion. Dogs and people shed tears during would-be moving situations but instead we end up studying how the tears look rather than actually feeling the moment. This cerebral approach might have worked given a sharper a screenplay with something important to say about humans’ relationship not just with domesticated dogs but all animals that we must share the planet with. The elements are there: bureaucracy, the media, politics, science, and rebellion. But they are not put together in a way that tells a grander story of why there is a natural bond between man and dog.

The voice cast is impeccable. Particularly enjoyable are the dogs that Atari (voiced by Koyu Rankin) meets when he crash-lands his plane onto Trash Island in the attempt to locate and rescue his dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). It is led by Chief (Bryan Cranston), a stray dog who does not trust humans. Cranston plays the role not as a voice but as a consciousness, so to speak. I felt he really embodies the sadness and loneliness of a dog who survived in the streets following a tragic incident with his former owners. Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, and Jeff Goldblum round up the ragtag team who end up aiding in the boy’s mission.

Most distracting is a near pointless subplot involving a girl from Ohio named Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) who is compelled to expose Mayor Kobayashi’s devious plan (Kunichi Nomura) in order to get re-elected. I found the girl’s look to be odd and unpleasant. Perhaps the point is for the American exchange student from Ohio to stand out visually, but I felt her extreme look neither fits nor complements her surroundings. Her headstrong personality matches her extreme looks, but nearly every time the attention is on her and away from the dogs, the material verges on boredom. This character is classic Anderson: it must exist simply because it is quirky without necessarily being of service to the story. Take away Tracy’s scenes and recognize we can get to the same destination.

I give credit to the writer-director for creating a work that I know he is happy with. Sometimes you just feel that a filmmaker loves his project, and I feel it is the case here. Visually, there are hundreds of details worth putting a magnifying glass over, studying, and appreciating. Many filmmakers of poorer caliber settle for skeletal details—even within the realm of animation. For me, however, I require another level of quality. In this case, it is the emotional kind because the point is to tell a story of man’s relationship with dogs. Predictably, because I am familiar with Anderson’s oeuvre, it is most frustrating that his latest work is so unfeeling still.

The Grand Budapest Hotel


The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
★ / ★★★★

As far as favorite directors go, Wes Anderson’s name is about a mile off my list. And yet whenever he releases a new picture, I always want to give him a chance because he has proven prior that he is capable of making a humanistic picture first and a moving painting second (“Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums”). But not lately.

Instead, he puts style ahead of substance and it becomes an experience not to be enjoyed but to be endured. He has the power to cast many big and talented names, but he rarely uses them in such a way that every single one is able to make a mark. He would rather utilize them as decorations and so it becomes distracting, almost like watching a ninety-minute commercial rather than a full feature film.

Case in point: When the main character of the film, Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), concierge of the famed Grand Budapest in 1932, faces an old woman who is supposed to be his lover, instead of absorbing and processing the scene, my mind took notice of Tilda Swinton almost immediately underneath the heavy makeup. If the screenplay had been more alive by being more interested in introducing its characters in a meaningful way instead of going for the predictable Anderson wide shot designed to showcase how pretty the room looks, recognizing the performer would probably have escaped me.

The story is all over the place. Perhaps it is the director’s attempt to disguise being original when, really, the scenes are nothing but a potpourri of familiar trappings. I think he is aware of this, too. Perhaps it is the reason why he decided to adopt a story-within-a-story(-within a story) conceit. The more pretty convolutions provided, the easier it is—at least with most people—to believe that maybe what one is watching is one of a kind. Do not be fooled.

There is a death, possibly murder, relatives who come to the funeral only because they wish to know the contents of the will (Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe), a lobby boy who hopes to prove his worth (Tony Revolori), a stolen priceless work of art and the police hunt that comes afterwards (Edward Norton)… Aren’t you bored? I’m bored just typing all of that. Compound them with a very relaxed, almost lackadaisical, direction, there is a drought of suspense and excitement. There is only twee quirks and pastel palates.

Despite having a running time of just above an hour and a half, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” makes Stanley Kubrick’s three-hour “Barry Lyndon” feel like only an hour long. These two films are comparable in that both are very beautiful even though the former is more like a children’s collage and the other is a time travel to the past. But there is a key difference. In Kubrick’s film, its protagonist is driven by a motivation we can all relate with. Gustave, on the other hand, is esoteric. Why is he interesting? His reputation for sleeping with older women? How some men consider him a queer? His bisexualism? I say none of the above. Anderson neglects to make his protagonist interesting or memorable. His eyes are on the set decor.

Moonrise Kingdom


Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) expects it to be just another day of camping, leading, and teaching his fellow Khaki Scouts in Camp Ivanhoe. During breakfast, however, he notices that one of his students is missing from the table, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), the least popular among his peers. A letter of resignation is found in his tent, leaving everyone at a loss as to why he’s done such a thing. With a storm rapidly approaching, expected to arrive in three days, a search party is formed to get Sam to safety.

“Moonrise Kingdom,” written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, offers a distinctive style and vision, its images cutely retro, appropriately dyed with a golden yellowish tinge, so fitting considering its 1965 milieu. And while it is an absolute pleasure to look at because of the vintage clothing, old school gadgets, and its loving attention to nature, it has a voyeuristic element about it that at times it feels like looking into a personal memory of a boy experiencing his first romance with a girl named Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), his perfect, at least for the time being, other half in that both have their share of imperfections, weirdness, and awkwardness.

When the picture focuses on the duo’s excursions around the beautiful island of New Penzance, it is at its most engaging. The script, as should be expected from a Wes Anderson film, has its own rhythm, sometimes a bit obfuscated in that it challenges our minds to drill into exactly what is being communicated. The lack of range in terms of evoking precise emotions between Gilman and Hayward work because a case can be made that Sam and Suzy are still trying to figure out who they are. Sometimes I wondered if their idea of romance is a reflection of pop culture at the time which supports their mindset of running away together and living happily ever after. Their youth has a potent spark, fueled by their need to connect with someone willing to listen and embrace because they feel like outcasts in their respective worlds.

Unfortunately, the film entertains far too many subplots and each one is not given sufficient time to be nurtured. The only strand that works involves Laura (Frances McDormand) and Walt (Bill Murray), Suzy’s parents, who tolerate a near passionless marriage, deciding to stay together for the sake of their children. Their one scene in the bedroom, occupying different beds, communicates a sadness with an underlying air of apathy—an emotion that holds more bite than hatred—that it dares the viewers to wish they would lash out on one another. At least then they may not have to guess what the other is thinking. Despite their current unhappiness, we can accept the possibility that they were probably very much in love when they were young which directly ties back to the Khaki Scout and his pen pal.

What does not work at all is the affair between Laura and a Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), the cop who leads the search. Their interactions are supposed to be comic but I found them boring and lacking in energy. Perhaps this might be attributed to the Captain’s Sharp’s story—which is too broad, not containing enough specific details to warrant belief that he is a beacon of hope even though he has had his share of problems.

Further, when the storm arrives in the back half of the picture, the chaos that ensues is only mildly interesting. It is off-putting that the balance between visuals and heart is thrown out the window, heavily relying on the strength of the former while the latter is slowly reduced to a footnote until it is convenient to wring out syrupy emotions for the audience. Director Wes Anderson has a habit of doing this to his projects and it is a great frustration.

Fantastic Mr. Fox


Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Based on a book by Roald Dahl, “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” directed by Wes Anderson, told the story of Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) who promised his wife (Meryl Streep) that he would stop stealing food from farmers when she told him that she was carrying a child. Twelve years later, right around the visit of Mrs. Fox’ nephew (Eric Chase Anderson), Mr. Fox felt the need to return to his schemes and eventually got his entire animal community into trouble. The first thiry minutes of this animated film was strong. I was amused with the scenes involving Mr. Fox sneaking into the farmers’ respective lands and facing different and fun challenges. I also liked the scenes that highlighted the insecurities of Ash (Jason Schwartzman), Mr. and Mrs. Fox’ son, when he would often compare himself to his cousin, especially in terms of physicality and athleticism. Those were enjoyable because it had a certain energy and excitement so I couldn’t help but look forward to what would happen next. Unfortunately, like in most of Anderson’s work, the movie began to run out of fuel past the forty-minute mark. When the animals were forced to live underground, the picture felt like it didn’t know where it was going and random references to other films started popping up like the plague. The attempts for dry humor were unoriginal and I could feel the material’s desperation to get any kind of laugh. Despite many things happening at the same, unlike the first third of the film, the material no longer felt fresh. It lost intelligence, tenderness and spark. In fact, the characters started to blend amongst one another. As a result, I merely saw the animals as pests instead of creatures that supposed to reflect us humans. While I thought the animation was interesting to look at (and I did embrace its flaws), the way the story unfolded wasn’t strong enough to get me to care for the characters. Quirkiness could only get a movie so far and unfortunately, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” relied too much on the superficial. Other actors who contributed their voices include Bill Murray, Michael Gambon and Willem Dafoe. However, I didn’t recognize their voices because the picture was too busy trying to deal with the conflict between the animals and humans to the point where it didn’t have enough time to take a minute and convince us why we should care. For all I care, the big names’ voices could have been played by unknowns and it wouldn’t have made a difference. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” received a lot of comparisons with Pixar movies. However, I think Pixar films are much more effective because they are aware of the fact that since we’re not seeing human faces, they highlight the animated characters’ human characteristics to lure us and, more importantly, keep our attention. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” managed to lure me but it didn’t keep me interested.