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.

 

Feast of Movies this Weekend

I’ve been enjoying the My French Film Festival from the comfort of my own laptop this week. The fully online festival, which started on 19 January, runs until the 29th so you still have a few days left to watch. It’s free in Africa – hooray! Tip: logging in via Facebook is an easy login option. Check out the MyFFF  at https://www.myfrenchfilmfestival.com. There are a number of shorts (12 minutes, 25 minutes long) as well as feature films.

A Wedding is one of the MyFFF feature films I can really recommend. It’s the story of 18-year-old Zahira who lives with her Pakistani family in Belgium. Zahira is embedded in her Western lifestyle yet loves her traditional family. The film addresses a number of sensitive issues and how the two cultures merge and clash. The issues are: abortion; arranged marriage versus the freedom to choose a partner; religion/culture in a secular society; patriarchy; and the violence that stems from defending family honour.

Coming out on circuit today is The Post, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. I definitely want to see that one!

TIDBITS:

  • The film Dunkirk received eight nominations for Warner Bros on 24 January from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. I saw this film in 2017 on IMAX – the experience, the tension, the filming were fantastic. #TimesMediaFilms
  • A South African Western ?!. That’s right folks Five Fingers for Marseilles – a modern-day South African Western – is coming to South African cinemas in April 2018. #indigenousfilm.co.za.
  • Since Cinema Nouveau at Gateway in Durban combined premises with the classic Ster Kinekor theatres, nouveau movies have not always been clearly demarcated. Just so you know for this weekend, the top 10 Nouveau movies at the moment are: Murder on the Orient Express; Wonder; Beatriz at Dinner; Thank you for your Service; Molly’s Game; Brad’s Status; Victoria and Abdul; Wonder Wheel; Marshall; Battle of the Sexes. #cinemanouvea

John Wick: Chapter 2 is an Absurd Catch 22

Image: supplied by Ster Kinekor

When I looked up John Wick: Chapter 2 on IMDb (Internet Movie Database) the rating for this film was 8.2. ‘Ooh,’ I thought, ‘it must be good.’

After seeing this ‘action, crime, thriller’ I was less enthusiastic and thought I’d investigate how the IMDb rating system works. This is a statement on their website:

Weighted Average Ratings

IMDb publishes weighted vote averages rather than raw data averages. Various filters are applied to the raw data in order to eliminate and reduce attempts at vote stuffing by people more interested in changing the current rating of a movie than giving their true opinion of it.

The exact methods we use will not be disclosed. This should ensure that the policy remains effective. The result is a more accurate vote average.

 Votes are posted to IMDb by viewers and quite detailed viewer demographics are listed on the site. And when I looked it up the critic reviews’ metascore was listed as 75 for John Wick: Chapter 2 (compared at the same time to, for instance, Trainspotting T2’s rating at 7.8 and metascore at 62).

I was pleased to see that the critic reviews ranged from as low as 40 (Trainspotting’s lowest was 50). Pleased because I loathed this movie. Knowing now how the IMDb system works I feel free to state with a clear conscience that I am not trying to ‘stuff’ up the votes. I am simply adding my own (very low) vote to the others’.

In this film John Wick (played by a toneless Keanu Reeves) has exited a criminal organisation (something like the Italian mob) but is handed a ‘marker’ that forces him to re-enter it. He is tasked with killing one person, and slays a whole lot of others in his getaway attempt. He does this using stashed arms and fighting off baddies who conveniently attack him one at a time. Wick’s killing of the target enacts a ‘marker’ on his head in return and so this catch 22 cycle (unfortunately) continues. I was very sad to see that Chapter 2 may easily give way to Chapter 3.

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Image: supplied by Ster Kinekor

The phrase ‘Catch 22’, incidentally, was created by Joseph Heller who published a book by the same name in 1961. Catch 22 means ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’, something Heller’s American army characters experience over and over again in his story. Shortly before watching John Wick: Chapter 2 I listened to Catch 22 on Audible. The narration was brilliant and the story was cleverly written in a style that resembled catch 22 itself. It was ridiculously funny in parts and this humour belied the atrocities – and pointlessness – of war. So, entertainment and food for thought there. I found the style so frustrating, however, that it was hard to keep going (I don’t know how the author did). But then again, that may be what Heller was trying to achieve.

I think viewers are supposed to see John Wick: Chapter 2 as entertaining (and clearly from the IMDb votes many people did) and to admire this clever assassin. I just found the whole thing ridiculous and pointless. No food for thought there.

 

All-female Ghostbusters doesn’t quite work

The new Ghostbusters is virtually a mirror image of the 1984 movie of the same name, minus the great soundtrack. Which is a pity. Perhaps due to licencing agreements only instrumental snatches of the original song form a backdrop to the new version. Without the song the new Ghostbusters isn’t spectacular. It seems a trifle silly. And perhaps because of more sophisticated special effects it may even be scary for very small children.

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Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones in the 2016 rendition of Ghostbusters. Image source: http://tinyurl.com/z7cv3nf

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Small, but very talented cast in Demolition

Demolition is the story of Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man who grieves the sudden loss of his young wife Julia (Heather Lind) to a car crash. Davis works for his father-in-law Phil (Chris Cooper) and while Phil’s grieving process appears conventional, Davis’s is not. On the night of Julia’s death Davis absurdly writes a letter to a vending machine company complaining that the machine he had used on the night of her death did not deliver the chocolate bar he had paid for. Other strange behaviour follows (pulling a fridge apart, bulldozing his house) as this widower begins to question the meaning of his high-powered job, his marriage and his love for Julia.

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Jake Gyllenhaal in Demolition. Photo source: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/demolition_2016/

 

As he continues to write letters to the vending company in a referred outlet to his grief, Davis forms a relationship with the customer sales representative Karen (Naomi Watts). Karen lives a tough life, vastly different to Davis’s, and she has a troubled son Chris (Judah Lewis), with whom Davis becomes friends. During the course of the tale Phil emerges, through much heartache, as a gay young man, echoing Davis’s difficult journey to a place where he begins to understand himself and his former marriage.

The acting, especially by Gyllenhaal and Lewis, is very good. The representation of grief in the guise of destruction is an interesting take on this emotion and emphasises that as humans we are not all the same. Demolition has a small cast, however, an aspect I didn’t enjoy as it made some of the film a little dreary.

Demolition opens at Ster Kinekor theatres in South Africa on Friday 22 April 2016.

The Big Short tackles a sad reality

Review by Brenda Daniels

Already on circuit in South Africa, this 2008 financial crisis film was seen by myself only this week. Many viewers will of course be familiar with the story of the housing bubble that caused markets to crash eight years ago causing a fallout that spread around the world. This film continues that theme, though from a slightly different angle.

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The Finest Hours is the making of two captains

All I could remember about the film I was about to preview was that it was about a boat. As we switched our cell phones to silent another reviewer reminded me that it was based on a true story. I was surprised, therefore, to see the Disney logo come up on screen as I adjusted the 3D glasses I had, for once, remembered to bring. My expectations were primed: a story that would doubtless have a happy ending and one with great cinematic effects. I was right. And the journey there was a fine one indeed.

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Suffragette comes highly recommended

Suffragette, as the title implies, is a film about the Suffragette Movement in Britain. It is set in 1912, almost a decade after Emmeline Pankhurst founded the organisation in 1903. Importantly, this story focuses on the working women’s struggles to obtain suffrage (the right to vote).

The working class aspect is crucial to the plot as it shows the layers of oppression suffered by women at this end of the social spectrum. The main character, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan sporting a cockney accent), is the person who best represents the effects of these injustices. Maud’s journey into and with the Suffragette Movement and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), forms the basic outline of the film. She is therefore the “representative” of others like her and her experiences give us a good idea of what it took for women to eventually be granted the vote in Britain in 1918 (for women over 30) and 1928 (for women over 21).

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The Lady in the Van is sweet, but a little unrealistic

lady in the van

Maggie Smith as Miss Shepherd and Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett. Photo: Cinema Nouveau.

An elderly woman, Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith), turns up in a suburb of London and parks her old van in the neighbourhood street. Obviously a tramp, and obviously on the run for a crime, Miss Shepherd lives in her van and becomes the talking point among the neighbours. She forms a fairly close attachment to one Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) and eventually moves her van into his driveway. Alan is a writer and appears in the film as two persons: one who lives his life and the other who writes about his life. Whilst the kindest towards Miss Shepherd of all his neighbours, Alan nevertheless has his limits and his two selves argue about how to handle the old lady.

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