Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Isle of Dogs (2018)

Isle of Dogs – Film Review

Cast: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Bob Balaban, Frances McDormand, Greta Gerwig, Liev Schreiber

Director: Wes Anderson

Synopsis: In a near future Japan, after all dogs are banished to a solitary island following an outbreak of a deadly virus, one young boy goes in search of his dog.

Review: “Man’s best friend,” a title that has a long association with dogs and the special relationship that humanity as a species has with our four legged friends. This concept however is completely turned on its head in the latest film to emerge from the brain of quirky director Wes Anderson, also marking his second foray in stop-motion animation film-making following 2009’s Fantastic Mr Fox.

Set around twenty years in the future, in the wake of a virus that tears through a Japanese city, a decree is issued that declares that all dogs be sentenced to a nearby trash island, firmly away from any human contact. When one young boy makes a daring venture to said island in search of his pet dog, the burden falls to a select group of pooches, namely Chief (Cranston), Rex (Norton), King (Balaban), Boss (Murray) and Duke (Goldblum) to help him in his quest to find his beloved hound Spots (Schreiber).

Mutts on a mission…

It certainly is a given that with any feature length film, that a lot of care and attention goes into the production of the film, but never does that feel more appropriate than for this sort of stop motion animation. With each new character that is introduced (there are a fair few of them), it is evident that a great deal of work has gone into this film, and it pays dividends. The animation is stellar and by consequence, the film has a really unique look to it. Our main gang of lovable mutts are all very well fleshed out characters, which isn’t that much of a surprise given the considerable talents of the actors lending their voices to them. The stand-out is Bryan Cranston’s Chief who has some trust issues when it comes to humans, and as such he finds himself at odds with the rest of the pack, mainly Norton’s Rex.

As well as having a unique look about it, Anderson’s screenplay goes in very intriguing directions. Though it does use elements of Japanese culture that are very commonplace, it never feels like it is cultural appropriation. Indeed, it’s more like cultural appreciation as the country’s culture is front and centre, with instances where dialogue is sometimes not even translated. And of course, there is that quirky style of humour that only comes with a Wes Anderson movie stamped all over the film. He manages to fuse that humour so effortlessly into this heart-warming tale about the relationship between man and mutt, and how far one boy will go to save his four legged friend.

With such a stacked voice cast filled with so many talented actors, it was almost inevitable that some would get lost in the mix. Aside from Cranston, it’s Norton’s Rex and The Goldblum’s Duke that make the most impact, in addition to Nutmeg, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.  There are meaningful contributions from the likes of Harvey Keitel, Greta Gerwig and F Murray Abraham, but sadly they don’t get nearly enough the screen time that the actors of their talent deserve.

However, in spite of that, the dedication to the story and the warmth that the film-makers have not only to the culture of Japan but of pooches themselves mean that anyone who has a favourable disposition towards dogs will almost assuredly appreciate this film, likewise for anyone who is less enamoured by dogs will undoubtedly appreciate it. Who knows, perhaps even the most ardent cat lover won’t have a bone to pick with this film, but that might be a bit too far fetched.

Charming and very entertaining with beautiful detailed animation and a superb voice cast, there really isn’t anyone in Hollywood who makes movies like Wes Anderson does.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Image is property of Fox Searchlight and Film4

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Film Review

Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage

Director: Martin McDonagh

Synopsis: After a young woman’s murder goes unsolved, her mother rents out the use of three billboards just outside her town to try and force the authorities into action…

Review: As human beings, it would certainly be fair to say that we can be at our lowest ebbs whenever someone we love has passed away. Whether it be from natural causes, or if they’re cruelly and sometimes callously taken away from us. But what could anyone do in the case of the latter? Well there’s not a lot you could do except hope that killer was caught and swiftly faces justice for their actions. However, what if that doesn’t come to pass?  Do you have any other options?

Yes is the answer for one bereaved mother, as she chooses to take matters into her own hands. After her daughter Angela was brutally raped and murdered seven months prior, Mildred Hayes makes use of three large billboards just outside of her town, with  messages that are directed at the police whose investigation hasn’t yielded any clues. Though by doing this, it causes a stir among the population of the town (and not in a good way) that creates some problems on top of the problems that Mildred is already having in her life.

You would think that such a bleak scenario does not allow for comedy, but that’s exactly what writer/director Martin McDonagh provides. His superb screenplay manages fuses both the comedy and the tragedy of this family drama so effortlessly that one never negates the other. One scene can shift from a wonderfully humorous moment to a gut-wrenchingly sad moment in an instant. Furthermore, in a country that is facing some deeply testing times, the screenplay also goes beyond the personal grief of one family and examines some important issues facing American society today. It’s extremely powerful and hard-hitting.

Being the centrepiece of this story Mildred Hayes is a character who it is clear has had a lot of shit going on in her life besides the tragic fate that befell her daughter. Even though she isn’t exactly going things in the most acceptable or indeed correct manner, you understand her rage that she has for certain people and as such you do sympathise with her. Frances McDormand gives a terrific performance that has already won her a Golden Globe, with more nominations and potentially awards to follow, all of which would be well deserved. Equally terrific are Police Chief Willoughby (Harrelson) who’s encountering his own difficult personal problems and a bigoted policeman (Rockwell) who is absolutely not a friendly chap whatsoever. Yet there is a hint of a man who is a little bit vulnerable, though the same could be said for perhaps almost everyone in the town, with these events having clearly taken their toll on the town as a whole.

With each of the story-lines that these characters have and the ensuing journey that these three in particular go on makes for some hilarious, and in some cases, harrowing viewing. Yet  it handles its subject matter in such a delicate manner that the comedy and the tragedy do not cancel each other out. With McDonagh’s razor sharp screenplay and direction, combined with the electric performances from the ensemble cast ensures that the film is extremely thought-provoking. It packs so much more emotional weight that ensures it will leave a lasting impression, on both the viewer and indeed on this current awards season race.

 Funny, shocking and depressing, sometimes all in the same scene, but McDonagh’s razor sharp screenplay ensures it is all meshed together supremely well. This is bold, but quite brilliant film-making in equal measure.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Image is property of Paramount and Hasbro studios

Transformers: Dark of the Moon – Film Review

Cast:  Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Frances McDormand, Patrick Dempsey, John Malkovich, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro, Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving, Leonard Nimoy

Director:  Michael Bay

Synopsis: When a  Transformer ship crashes on the Moon back in the height of the Cold War, triggering the Space Race, it possesses technology that could prove pivotal to the fates of both humanity and the Transformers themselves

Review: When you launch a live action franchise that is based off a hugely popular toy series, it’s almost a certainty that you will get people into the cinemas to see said films and the studio will make a nice juicy profit from these movies. However, you still have to make a good film that will ensure audiences keep coming on back once you decide to make sequels right?

Well not always as it happens, because even if you have one fun enough popcorn flick, but then that’s followed up with to put it mildly, a really disappointing follow-up, it creates the dilemma as to whether the audiences will return for a third film, under the same creative team as the previous two? Well yes as it turns out cos Hollywood does like to make those sequels, and the popularity of the Transformers franchise certainly compelled people back to the cinema, and thankfully this time director Michael Bay listened somewhat to the complaints that people had with Revenge of the Fallen, but not all of them.

In the wake of the previous movie Sam, now with new squeeze Carly (Huntington-Whiteley) is looking for fulfilment after having saved the world twice from the Decepticons, but of course those dastardly Decepticons are by no means willing to wave the white flag in their mission to conquer Earth yet, with their plot hinging around the Transformer ship that crashes onto our Moon carrying in it the former leader of the Autobots Sentinel Prime (Nimoy) and a transformer technology that if the Decepticons get their hands on it, is bad news for humanity as you would expect, and Earth becomes Transformers Bayhem once again.

Chicago has seen better days…

For a franchise that has Transformers in the title, you would like to see a lot more focus on the bots rather than the humans, but for around the first hour, we see Sam struggle in a pretty tedious job rather than see Autobots and Decepticons laying it down, and it’s all just not very interesting, even with a good highway chase thrown in there. However, after Sam learns of a sinister plot that involves the aforementioned Transformer ship that crashed on the Moon, and its subsequent ramifications, the film does begin to pick up the pace a lot. Yet the journey getting there is not exactly enjoyable as you feel like there are some scenes that could have been left on the editing room floor.

It’s when we reach the third act and the city of Chicago has endured a bit of damage that the film really hits its brightest spots and its Autobots v Decepticons Round 3. Bay certainly likes to film his actions scenes with a lot of explosions and here he does so once more. Visually Michael Bay does make some impressive fight scenes and while they are fun to watch, there is not enough substance in them to justify the rather long running time.

The film doesn’t really boast much in the way of top notch acting talent too unfortunately. LaBeouf was watchable for the first film but here his appeal has just fizzled away, Huntington-Whiteley, while being much better than her predecessor isn’t exactly giving an award worthy calibre performance, McDormand as the new Government MVP and Patrick Demspey as the primary antagonist do offer some great performances, but it is the best of a bad bunch. It is a shame that there can be a truly great Transformers movie in there somewhere, and the first film was almighty close to achieving that, but with subsequent films, Bay did not build upon what he had achieved the first time around, and while the end product this time around is not awful, it is a mishmash of robotic mayhem thrown in with some inane human drama.

Throwing up nothing that you haven’t seen before, but considerably improving on what its predecessor gave us with some impressive visuals and action, that are weighed down by indifferent acting and a shaky script.