Comic-style Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs is a Wes Anderson movie and Wes Anderson has a unique style that makes his productions quirky. My best example is The Grand Budapest Hotel (https://wp.me/p4c1s1-5M).

Photo: Press/Fox Searchlight

Wes Anderson tropes in Isle of Dogs are:

  • The creation of a separate world. In this stop-motion animation the world is ‘Trash Island’ off the coast of Japan. It’s a place where all the unwanted stuff goes – trash (obviously) and, in this case, dogs. Also, several of the characters speak Japanese and are not always translated into English. One of these is the cat-loving dog-hating Mayor Kobayashi who banishes dogs to Trash Island in the first place. There is a theatricality about being aware of this separate world and I did feel like I was watching a Japanese comic book production.
  • Children act like adults – in this case 12-year-old Atari who endangers his life in a mission to find his beloved dog Spots. Atari actually flies an aeroplane to the island, crash lands and spends the rest of the time hobbling around with a bad leg and a black eye. Another child on the mainland (an unfortunate choice I felt of an American exchange student Tracy Walker) uncovers the sinister plot behind the whole story and the two children heroically bring about change.
  • Speech patterns – The dogs – although not children – speak in distinctive adult tones and most of the lines are delivered deadpan which definitely adds to the comical nature of the film. It is this trope, mostly, that keeps Isle of Dogs from being a purely children’s animated film.

I enjoyed the ‘comic-book’ feel of the film. But I don’t think it’s a film many will enjoy. The fact that it was released in South Africa through Cinema Nouveau is perhaps an indication that it isn’t aimed at the majority of viewers. Alissa Wilkinson (https://bit.ly/2GkLNYv) felt that the downfall of Isle of Dogs was its lack of an important message. I disagree somewhat. I think the separate island for storing the unwanted is a modern theme that resonates in our global, trash-overflowing society.

Isle of Dogs is currently showing at cinemas in South Africa.

 

Jungle Book: a visual delight, but will it help the tigers?

The latest reimagining of Disney’s 1967 animated film, based on the well-known book of the same name by Rudyard Kipling, is a visual delight. Mowgli is played by “real” actor, Neel Sithi, while his jungle animal friends are animated and voiced by the likes of Scarlett Johannson (Kaa), Bill Murray (Baloo), Ben Kingsley (Bagheera), Idris Elba (Shere Khan) and Christopher Walken (King Louie). I watched The Jungle Book in 3D and the film will also release in IMAX which I think will be spectacular.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel is definitely a favourite for the Oscar

Oscar Buzz – Whiplash, The Theory of Everything, Wild and The Grand Budapest Hotel A Feast of Tales has reviewed Birdman, Boyhood and The Imitation Game, three of the films nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture. Here we review four more of the nominated films, excluding American Sniper and Selma. The Academy Awards will be announced on 22 February 2015. Reviews by Brenda Daniels Whiplash In this film young music student Andrew (Miles Teller) is accepted into a prestigious music group conducted by the revered and feared Fletcher (J K Simmons). Andrew becomes Fletcher’s new protégée. Far from being nurturing, however, Fletcher’s teaching style fluctuates wildly between favouritism and cruelty. Young, impressionable and, most importantly, ambitious, Andrew, is sucked in by Fletcher and tossed about in a manner reminiscent of the film’s title Whiplash (Whiplash is also the title of the music group’s main song). The audience is drawn in to some extent as well and at times I wondered whether Fletcher had good intentions or simply enjoyed torturing his students. But ultimately Whiplash is a bildungsroman – the maturing of young Andrew Neimann. The picture of his protective father (Paul Reiser) looking with astonishment from the stage wings on his son’s superb drumming performance is symbolic of this. It is a memorable moment.

Miles Teller plays the lead role in Oscar nominated film, Whiplash. Photo: creative Commons

Miles Teller plays the lead role in Oscar nominated film, Whiplash. Photo: creative Commons

The Theory of Everything Another Oscar contender for best film is The Theory of Everything starring Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking and Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking. The film focuses more on Hawking’s personal life than on his professional life, and highlights his relationships and the progression of his illness. It spans several years, starting with Hawking’s time at Cambridge University to the launch of his first books in America. The romance of the young lovers Stephen and Jane is touchingly portrayed and Jane is to be admired for committing to marriage shortly after Stephen’s motor neurone disease diagnosis. At the time doctors had given him only two years to live. Stephen’s reaction to this news is seen in his sudden decision to do his PhD on “The Nature of Space and Time” (the title of one of his books). Other book titles appear in the film in the form of conversations and lectures. And Stephen’s atheism is shown in contrast to Jane’s gentle, yet enduring, Christian beliefs. Eddie Redmayne’s acting as the increasingly infirm Hawking is really good. But I would have welcomed a more intense focus on the scientist’s “theories of everything”; without it the plot is not meaty enough.

Felicity Jones plays a supporting role as Jane Hawkings in Oscar nominated film, The Theory of Everything. Photo: Creative Commons

Felicity Jones plays a supporting role as Jane Hawkings in Oscar nominated film, The Theory of Everything. Photo: Creative Commons

Wild Cheryl Strayd (Reese Witherspoon) embarks alone on a tough, demanding hike known as the Pacific Crest Trail. As her journey progresses, flashbacks to her past reveal that Cheryl has set out on this endeavour in order to properly grieve the death of her mother. A little self-indulgent to begin with, the film improves with time and I found myself identifying with Cheryl. For instance, Cheryl kicks a gas canister in frustration after discovering she had bought the wrong one. She accidentally knocks one of her boots into a ravine and then flings its companion after it in a fit of rage. I could see myself doing those things too. I also identified with images of Cheryl’s mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern). Laura Dern acts her part beautifully. The performance is worthy of its best supporting actress nomination and Dern certainly gets my vote. Bobbi’s relationship with her two young children (Cheryl and her brother Leif [Keen McRae]) is a delight to see and I found myself thinking fondly of the many hours I had spent with my own two children.

Reese Witherspoon, seen at the 83rd Academy Awards. She plays the chief character in Oscar nominated film, Wild. Photo: Creative Commons

Reese Witherspoon, seen at the 83rd Academy Awards. She plays the chief character in Oscar nominated film, Wild. Photo: Creative Commons

The Grand Budapest Hotel This is one of my favourites of the eight nominated for best film. The European setting in an indefinable hotel between the two world wars is mysterious, exotic and therefore attractive. The characters are a surprise. The acclaimed concierge Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) is a refined, loyal employee of the Grand Budapest Hotel. But he also swears with abandon, cons old ladies out of their fortunes and gets arrested in the process. His new bell boy, Zero Moustafa, is amusing. He hardly speaks in the movie and his activities revolve mostly around drawing a moustache onto his upper lip every morning and rushing with wide eyes to do Gustave’s bidding. The pair nevertheless develop a humorously close relationship. All of this is couched in action that reminded me of the comics I read as a child; a funicular makes its way up a ridiculously steep pathway to the remotely situated hotel; Gustave’s escape from prison involves overly long ladders, unfortunate deaths and speedy getaways in snow-blanketed landscapes. Though not everyone’s cup of tea, I simply loved this film. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a delight.

Ralph Fiennes stars in Oscar nominated film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Photo: Creative Commons

Ralph Fiennes stars in Oscar nominated film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Photo: Creative Commons

Message in The Monuments Men meanders vaguely

A review by Brenda Daniels

The Monuments Men is a World War II drama based on a true story. It recounts how artworks in the form of paintings and sculptures, stolen by the Nazis during the war, were recovered. The film features a cast of big names including George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville and Bill Murray.

Seven men, previously unconscripted because of age, are handpicked by Frank Stokes (Clooney) for their art expertise. They don uniforms right near the end of the war and set out on their mission to find the artworks and return them to their rightful owners.

There are no flashy heroics in this film. The characters are old and ordinary. And their mission of saving artworks seems silly when compared to saving human lives. But, argues their leader Stokes, preserving art is preserving culture. And culture reflects the importance of a people and their achievements.

What the group did recover is indeed staggering. What they helped prevent is monumental. Hitler had plans to build his own Führer Museum. He needed art, books and other treasures to fill it so stole what he needed, storing it up in hiding places. This ragtag bunch of chaps was instrumental in putting an end to his dreams.

Unfortunately The Monuments Men meanders through a vague plot, throwing in some sentimentality and personal suffering just for good measure. This makes what promised to be a fine film slow and unnecessarily long.

The actors do a good job, particularly Cate Blanchett as a sour but helpful source of intelligence. As a group they don’t leave a lasting impression nor do they capitalise on some potential for humour. Although The Monuments Men fails to make more of its noble message, the message does get through and is worth watching just for this.

The Monuments Men opens at NuMetro Theatres in South Africa on 14 February.

MFAA soldiers recovering looted paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle               (Source: Creative Commons)

MFAA soldiers recovering looted paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle (Source: Creative Commons)