Monday, May 28, 2018

Isle of Dogs (2018)

Director Wes Anderson offers up a strange dystopian Japanese future for his latest, which is also his second stop-motion animation picture after 2009's Fantastic Mr. Fox. Doing the cartoon thing seems to bring something out of Anderson that I like in spite of my general misgivings about him. As usual these days—Anderson looking more and more like a candidate to replace Woody Allen and keep some casting director in steady work—the roster alone is a fireworks display of star talent. And remember, we're only talking about voice talent here: Bob Balaban, Bryan Cranston, Greta Gerwig, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Yoko Ono, Liev Schreiber, and many more famous names. To tell the truth, I didn't always recognize their voices and actually I prefer it that way in animated pictures (happier, for example, to be unaware that Chief was Cranston). But you still have to be impressed with all that talent in one place. Someone somewhere pointed out that Isle of Dogs is phonetically equivalent to saying "I love dogs," which twists my brain a little but it's helpful to know because the realities in this movie are harsh as well as ironically whimsical. This is one case where "a dog's life" looks as sad and hard as it's supposed to. In fact, in the future of this movie, the entire species has been exiled from Japanese society to a place called Trash Island, which is where the garbage goes from the Japanese archipelago (the map views didn't look like the Japan we know so I presume they're filling the ocean with garbage and building on it or something like that). Trash Island looks a lot like Wall-E. There I said it. Are there problems in this movie? Yes, there are problems in this movie. The cultural appropriation of Japan and Japanese culture is bold and not politically correct but for those reasons it is also annoying and can seem a little thick-headed. But I love dogs. Who doesn't love dogs? And these dogs are quite adorable—Chief, Spots (Schreiber), Rex (Norton), King (Balaban), Boss (Murray), and Duke (Goldblum) are making lives the best they can in the trash. There's a really great chemistry between them, a kind of free-flowing Tarantino-like camaraderie reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs, where they talk things over with ease, crack wise, and carry on. The plot is unnecessarily byzantine and Anderson has some strange ways of moving the story along, such as Japanese without subtitles. But it all sort of fits, I think. And it's funny—I was the only one in the theater the day I saw it and I still laughed. I'm no authority, because I generally don't like Anderson movies that much, but I liked Isle of Dogs and look forward to seeing it again someday down the line.

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