Review: Isle of Dogs

I may be in my late 20s, but I’m still a sucker for a good animated feature. Growing up, I was raised around cats but I’m friendly to both cats and dogs, as long as they are friendly to me in return. Anyway, it’s been nine years since the visionary storyteller Wes Anderson has made an animated feature, so when Isle of Dogs caught my attention, I had to travel a great distance to see it. It was worth it!

Isle of Dogs is essentially about a boy and his dog. What makes it different? This story takes place in Megasaki City, Japan two decades into the future, where canines are besieged by illnesses and afflictions that are threatening to cross over into the human population. Mayor Kobayashi, has decreed that all dogs, both stray and domesticated, are to be exiled onto Trash Island for the good of the human population but the mayor’s young ward, Atari, commandeers a plane to travel to the island and bring home his canine bodyguard Spots.

Atari crash lands on the island and is aided by a pack of “alpha dogs” who assist in his search. Rex, King, Boss, Duke and their pack-leader Chief accompany Atari across the island to find Spots and get them back to Megasaki City before the Mayor progresses with his anti-canine agenda.

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Image by Fox Searchlight

Isle of Dogs barks, bites, is well-trained, does tricks, howls, rolls over, let’s you scratch its belly, is well-groomed, wags its tail; this movie features the hallmarks of why mankind is so fond of dogs and one can tell that Wes Anderson, being the amazing storyteller that he is, has crafted and shaped this delightful stop-motion animated achievement with love, amazing attention to detail and imaginative wit from start to finish.

I had high hopes for this film and it didn’t disappoint in the slightest. Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura put their heads together and turned in an idea that was creative, socially relevant to today, engaging, thought-provoking but a little wacky but beautiful as well.

From start to finish, I was mesmerized by the stop-motion animation and Anderson’s storytelling style complimented the animation style perfectly. From prologue to the final credits, this was a playful experience to witness.

The vocal talents were as diverse as they were superb. Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Yoko Ono, Ken Watanabe, Kara Hayward, Liev Schrieber, Courtney B. Vance, Fisher Stevens and Mari Natsuki, all did fine work giving personality to their characters.

Alexandre Desplat’s music is as terrific as always, Tristan Oliver’s cinematography was superb, Edward Bursch, Ralph Foster and Andrew Weisblum’s editing moved seamlessly between the subplots, Paul Herrod and Adam Stockhausen’s production design was pristine and Curt Enderle’s art direction was fantastic. The entire crew of this film put in so much work and dedication to really elevate the appeal of Isle of Dogs and they should be commended.

2018 will see many animated features come through theaters but Isle of Dogs raised the bar very high for the animated features to come. In my opinion, this movie is probably as good as Zootopia; I was very impressed.

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Movies of the Week: Pacific Rim Uprising & Isle of Dogs

It’s double feature Friday this week! This first film on this weekend’s double bill, is a return to a world at war between the monsters that rose from the sea and the monsters mankind created to stop them. Five years ago, Guillermo Del Toro delivered a dazzling smack down spectacle between terrifying demons from another world dubbed Kaiju and mankind’s monolithic response to the Kaiju threat called Jaegers. The war between them was thought to be over when the heroic feats of the Gypsy Danger crew sealed the breach to the Kaiju’s universe but the war is reignited, the Kaiju are stronger than ever and the son of the fallen Jaeger Marshall Stacker Pentecost is ready to pick up where his dad and the first generation of Jaeger pilots left off in Pacific Rim Uprising.

Director: Steven S. DeKnight

Written by: Emily Carmichael, Steven S. DeKnight, Kira Snyder and T.S. Nowlin

Starring: John Boyega, Charlie Day, Rinko Kikuchi, Burn Gorman, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, Adria Ajorna, Tian Jing, Dustin Clare, Karan Brar, Nick E. Tarabay and Daniel Feuerriegel

What am I expecting to see?: Honestly, I’m trying to go into this picture as objectively as possible but I can’t help but wonder why? Why are we getting a sequel to Pacific Rim? The way the first film ended, ended the story just fine but I can’t find a rational reason why the studios would make this movie aside from the fact that because they can! I’m trying to be open minded when it comes to this film but I don’t believe this sequel will be as entertaining as its predecessor. Best case scenario? This movie exceeds my expectations but I’m doubtful.

The second film on this weekend’s double feature? The second animated venture from the man behind The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Two decades into the future, an outbreak of a rampant disease sends shockwaves throughout Japan and in effect, an island made of garbage becomes an internment camp for canines afflicted by this illness but a young boy travels to the island to be reunited with his canine companion and allies himself with five dogs to track his dog’s location. Wes Anderson’s newest feature is Isle of Dogs.

Director: Wes Anderson

Written by: Wes Anderson

Featuring the voices of: Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Liev Schrieber, Greta Gerwig, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Kietel, Frances McDormand, Koyu Rankin, Ken Watanabe, Courtney B. Vance, Bob Balaban and Yoko Ono.

What am I expecting to see?: I think this is going to be a real treat! One of the first films I’ve seen from Wes Anderson was Fantastic Mr. Fox and I was awestruck by how the stop-motion animation worked wondrously well with Anderson’s prowess as a storyteller and I think Isle of Dogs is poised to follow suit as a film brimming with impeccable imagination, attention to detail and a story that is both heartwarming and unafraid to go to very dark places. I think this is a film that will set the mark very high for the animated features to come this year.

Review: Doctor Strange

If the final superhero feature of 2016 had a mission to enchant audiences with its star-studded cast and dazzling psychedelic kaleidoscope visual effects, then Doctor Strange succeeded in its intent.

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Image by Marvel Studios

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as a smug neurosurgeon named Stephen Strange who thinks he has all the answers until a car wreck shatters his livelihood. He discovers a way to restore the use of his hands not through medicine, but through the mystic arts when he travels to Tibet and meets a sect of sorcerers led by a mysterious being called The Ancient One, who expands the concepts of his reality by introducing him to other realities beyond his wildest dreams.

I was excited about the cast of this movie because Doctor Strange is perhaps one of the most talented cast of actors Marvel has ever put together. Unfortunately these actors, I felt were way too big for these roles and the performances of Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong and Rachel McAdams, are adequate, the actors themselves were way too big for these characters, who barely scratch the surface of their comic counterparts.

Director Scott Derrickson with screenwriters Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill did what they could to make Doctor Strange as much of an enjoyable Marvel Studios experience as possible and as far as the film goes visually, it is worthwhile however the writing of Doctor Strange feels forced; the characters are rendered weak and one-dimensional because they are part of a plot that doesn’t elevate them, that tries too hard to be funny in some places and the action itself is fleeting.

I will say though that the plot, though shallow, does enough to establish the title character is this ever expanding Marvel Universe but ultimately, I was uncomfortable watching Doctor Strange; maybe it was the seat I selected due to this stupid “select-a-seat” option when I bought my ticket but Doctor Strange just felt awkward to me while I was watching it.

Visually and technically, I think Doctor Strange was aces. Ben Davis’ cinematography and Sabrina Pilsco and Wyatt Smith’s editing worked very well in this film, I particularly liked the time loop sequences with the apple and Dormmamu, those were very clever. The kaleidoscope visual effects were dazzling; watching the mirror dimensions distort and bend the streets of New York almost induced a vertigo episode in me; I’d recommend seeing this film in 3D.

I also liked the costumes of Alexandra Byrne and the makeup for making the characters look as close to their comic counterparts as possible. Michael Giacchino’s music did what it could to give this picture as much dimension as possible but it somehow faded to the background because the visuals took the appeal of this movie more than anything else.

I wanted Doctor Strange to wow me and the formula to do so was there and yet I wasn’t practically impressed. Looking back, I think Doctor Strange was all smoke and mirrors and no substance.

What’s disappointing is that this is the last superhero spectacle of 2016 and in my summation, the superhero features of 2016 were all bombs, except one and that one reached heights only a select few in its genre could. Doctor Strange is supposed to be a sorcerer, a master of magic but in order for magic to work, a degree of deception is necessary and I could read the spells of Doctor Strange as easily as I could read a traffic sign.

There was no deceptions or secrets or surprises that Doctor Strange had to offer me and I think that this is a cinematic equivalent to a parlor trick. There was nothing even remotely supreme about this sorcerer or how this film was put together and while it is fun to look at, the results leave me resolute in the idea that Doctor Strange could have been a lot better considering the parties involved in the production and the audience as well.

Movies of the Week: Doctor Strange, Loving and Hacksaw Ridge

Yes you read the header of this post correct! I believe that this will be the first time, I will cover three films in one weekend on this blog and I will provide reviews on all of them! Buckle up everyone because this November is going to be packed with some of my most anticipated films of the year, not to mention potential contenders for next year’s Oscars are going to be out in full force and the start of November begins with a BANG!

Esteemed-yet-arrogant neurosurgeon Stephen Strange suffers a calamity of a personal nature and travels to the ends of the Earth to remedy his pain but the world of science cannot help him. At his lowest point, he opens himself to the mystic arts to awaken his true potential and he becomes pivotal to defending the world as he knows it from a maniacal necromancer. Doctor Strange finally arrives in theaters this weekend!

Director: Scott Derrickson

Writer: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg and Benjamin Bratt.

Expectations: This installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is visually delirious and features a star-studded cast! I have high expectations.

My second featured film for this week is a historically groundbreaking tale that has forever altered the landscape of American society. Many years ago, it was considered unconstitutional and perhaps immoral for people of different races to cohabitate as man and wife and yet Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter joined together in the bonds of matrimony and when word spread about their marriage, society was quick to dub their action as a scandal yet they did nothing wrong. Loving is a true story about two people who changed the world by simply falling in love in the face of societal adversity.

Director: Jeff Nichols

Writer: Jeff Nichols

Cast: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Martin Csokas, Michael Shannon and Chris Green.

Expectations: This movie has the makings of a genuine Oscar contender if the story is captured as tenderly as the trailer suggests.

The third and final featured film of this week is a work from Mel Gibson and follows the story of a man who became a legend during World War II without firing a single shot. Hacksaw Ridge is essentially the story of Desmond Doss, a young man who enlisted in the army to serve his country but what sets Doss apart from other soldiers is that he refused to arm himself; he joined the army to save lives and went into warzones without a weapon, earning the sneers and disrespect of his fellow soldiers but earned their respect by sheer courage, determination and the drive to save lives.

Director: Mel Gibson

Writers: Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving, Matt Nable and Richard Roxburgh.

Expectations: I’m hearing whispers that this could be a major player during awards season and Mel Gibson aims to deliver a powerful film. I don’t want to be disappointed.

 

God Bless Comic Con! Why? TRAILERS!!!

I just knew that I would be blogging something today. Didn’t know how, but I knew. At first I thought I would throw up a surprise review on Star Trek Beyond, which IMO wasn’t all that; I’m not a Trekkie, I fail to see the appeal in Star Trek but I’m being honest, fans of the franchise will get a kick out of Justin Lin’s addition to the franchise and its attempt to appease its audience with classic nostalgic tones but for those non-Trekkies like myself: meh.

In case it hasn’t dawned on you: San Diego Comic Con is underway. It is in this time where fellow nerds, pop-culture enthusiasts, comic-lovers, practically people I can get along with confluence together to ooh and ahh all of the new grounds being broken in the worlds of comics, video games, television, films in the coming weeks, months or years even. You can always count on Comic Con to deliver something to wet your pop-culture appetite. While I was distracted by Star Trek Beyond, I returned home to catch up on what I’ve missed and I have missed much!

Kong: Skull Island

When Godzilla roared his mighty roar, someone at Warner Bros. and Legendary must have realized that this could be the beginning of something truly extraordinary but the creatures Godzilla faced did not pose enough of a challenge for the giant! Who could possibly stand against such a foe? The answer: KONG! An expedition led by Captain James Conrad, takes a team of explorers onto an island laden with danger and reigning over this treacherous-loaded-paradise is a creature who has existed long before the time of man but formidable and fearsome enough to hold dominion over his world and he won’t bow before anyone who dares stand in his way! Behold the trailer for Kong: Skull Island!

Kong: Skull Island is written by Max Borenstein, Derek Connelly, John Gatins and Dan Gilroy and is directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts. The film stars Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Toby Kebbell, John C. Reilly, Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell. Kong becomes King on March , 2017.

Doctor Strange

Just when I FINALLY calmed from seeing that ridiculously trippy trailer from Doctor Strange, they set this on us! I’m not complaining it looks spellbinding all the same! BY THE EYE OF AGAMOTTO ENCHANT US!

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Michael Stuhlbarg and Scott Adkins, Doctor Strange is written by Jon Spaiths, directed by Scott Derrickson and will land in theaters by November 4, 2016. WOW!

The LEGO Batman Movie

I confess, I regret not giving The LEGO Movie a chance while it was in theaters. It did prove to be quite the delightful adventure. The film went on to enjoy a LOT of success in 2014, and in typical Hollywood fashion success usually equals sequels or spinoffs and in The LEGO Movie’s case, both. While the sequel is a ways off, a spinoff starring one of the films most popular characters is completely put together and fans are eagerly awaiting for the unveiling of The LEGO Batman Movie.

Chris McKay is the director guy in charge of assembly, who co-wrote the film with Seth Grahame-Smith and Eric Sommers, with the assistance of Jared Stern and John Whittington. Will Arnett will lend his voice to Batman, and rounding out the cast is Ralph Fiennes, Rosario Dawson, Michael Cera, Zack Galifianakis and Mariah Carey. The LEGO Batman Movie will hit theaters with excellent reflexes on February 10, 2017.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Harry Potter’s magical age has come and gone but renowned literary genius J.K. Rowling has started a new story about a new magical hero. Famous magizoologist Newt Scamander’s arrival in 1950s New York City has coincided with strange happenings within the American wizarding community and these bizarre events have involved some form of magical beast or two. Scamander must put his expertise to the test to remedy the problem before the fallout falls onto the non-magical population. This is the latest trailer for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is written by J.K. Rowling, directed by David Yates and stars Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller, Katherine Waterston, Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, Carmen Ejogo, Dan Fogler and Samantha Morton. A new age of magic begins on November 18, 2016.

Wonder Woman

One can say she made her long-awaited debut in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, many can argue that she stole the show in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Either way, whether you liked Batman v. Superman or not-I didn’t-Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman was a revelation and a statement; badass heroes don’t have to be men. Before she stepped back into the light in that intense battle, she had a story and this trailer is a preview of said story about how Princess Diana of Thymiscara set foot onto the world of men, guided by Steve Trevor.

Directed by Patty Jenkins and written for the screen by Geoff Johns and Allan Heinberg, Wonder Woman stars Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Lucy Davis, David Thewlis, Danny Huston, Saïd Taghmaoui and Florence Kasumba. Wonder Woman rides into battle June 2, 2017.

 Justice League

Perhaps no movie will be under no greater scrutiny than the follow-up to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Judging by this trailer, Justice League is saying and doing all of the right things but trailers have been deceiving before. Essentially, Batman is recruiting a team of meta-humans including Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. This team of extraordinary individuals with great power will combat a coming threat. Justice League is coming together.

Zack Snyder directs, Chris Terrio contributes the screenplay for this superhero ensemble piece starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Amber Heard, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, J.K. Simmons, Willem Dafoe, Jeremy Irons and Henry Cavill. Justice League bows into theaters on November 17, 2017.

I have never attended Comic Con before but one day I hope to go and be a part of so much nerdgasmic excitement! Any more trailers come out, I’ll bring them here for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy and GOD BLESS COMIC CON!

Welcome to the Realm of the Sorcerer Supreme!

Image by Marvel

A brilliant egomaniac with a gift experiences great tragedy, loses everything he holds dear and through that tragedy, he embarks on a crusade to find the hero within. Sound familiar? It should, because it sounds like a particular stalwart in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I’m not talking about Tony Stark. The man in discussion happens to be a renowned neurosurgeon named Stephen Strange. Both characters sound similar and they embark on similar paths but Stark was saved through his technology, science. Strange was saved by the science that defies explanation. The mystic arts. Magic. After months of waiting, the trailer for Doctor Strange has finally arrived.

Written by Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill and directed by Scott Derrickson, Doctor Strange sports the most star-studded cast a Marvel film has ever fielded outside of The Avengers. Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch plays the title character and he is supported by Oscar nominees Chiwetel Ejiofor and Rachel McAdams, Oscar winner Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benedict Wong, Scott Adkins and Amy Landecker. The magic and mysticism begins on November 4, 2016.

Review: Hail, Caesar!

For as long as I can remember, I have always been puzzled by the films of Joel & Ethan Coen after viewing them. Whether it was a classic like The Big Lebowski or Fargo, something profound and recent like Inside Lleywn Davis, their remake of True Grit, A Serious Man or their Oscar winning picture No Country for Old Men, after viewing a Coen Brother motion picture I have to take the time to wrap my head around what I saw and whether or not I liked what I saw.

Their new picture Hail, Caesar! is no exception. Featuring an all-star ensemble Hail, Caesar! follows a day in the life of Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix as Capitol Pictures is about to wrap production on their big-budget prestige picture titled “Hail, Caesar”. All is going swimmingly until the star of the show, Baird Whitlock, vanishes.

Image by Universal

Mannix spends his day running around the lot putting out fires left and right in terms of casts and crews, attending meetings but when he discovers that Whitlock has been kidnapped, he desperately fights the urge to light a cigarette and utilizes whatever resources he can muster to find his star before anyone, particularly the Thacker twins, find out and put it in the papers and scandal ensues.

After attending a screening of Hail, Caesar! I pondered what was this? A gag, a prestige picture, an homage to 1950s cinema, their own creative spin of film history, another high-brow dark comedy from the Coen Brothers? I cannot say for certain. Maybe its all of these things and none of them.

I can say that the Coen Brothers have always been intelligent storytellers. I have always been drawn to their ability to craft a story with wit, humor, savvy, and sharpness and they are true masters of dark humor as much as they are masters of filmmaking.

Hail, Caesar! is many things but at the crux of its construction is the Coen Brothers’ wit, ingenuity and passion for the art and history of filmmaking and what’s more could be described as an ode to making movies for even though making movies takes so much away from the artist in question personally, and the non-stop interaction with so many personalities, the attempt to bring entertainment and culture to different avenues of life is rewarding in of itself and this is best exemplified through Josh Brolin’s character Mannix.

Mannix is in a never-ending parade at his job and it takes him away from his family, but he has a way out through a job offer with Lockheed and he flirts with taking it. He works tirelessly to make sure that the pictures he is marketing find success as evidenced through his sit-down with religious figures to determine whether the Christ figure in “Hail, Caesar” (the movie within the movie not the movie itself) won’t offend any religious audiences when it is released.

It goes without saying that this star-studded cast will draw audiences to Hail, Caesar! There’s George Clooney, Brolin, Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum, the narration of Michael Gambon, Alden Ehrenreich, Christopher Lambert, Hail Caesar! has a galaxy of stars and all of them are very well featured in the Coen Brothers story.

Though Hail, Caesar! isn’t based on a true story it does draw a lot of inspiration from a lot of historical references, i.e. Scarlett Johansson’s mermaid sequence reminded me of Busby Berkley’s style, also Baird Whitlock’s abduction by communists could be a reference to how the Communist party attempted to ingratiate itself into Hollywood society.

The writing and directing live up to the Coen Brothers’ standard, as is the editing of the Coen Brothers Roderick Jaynes. Roger Deakins’ cinematography never disappoints, Carter Burwell’s score is adequate, Jess Gonchor’s production design is amazing, Cara Brower and Dan Swiderski’s art direction definitely gave this movie the classic 1950’s tone and Mary Zophres’ costumes were fantastic.

Image by The Conversation

Again, Hail, Caesar! is many things but at the end of the day it’s a means for the Joel and Ethan Coen to demonstrate their cinematic savvy and intelligence and I feel confident enough to say that the demonstration known as Hail, Caesar! worked on me. Probably because I dedicated a few years of my higher education to better understand the history and cultural significance of 1950s cinema but I respected Hail, Caesar! completely.

I’m not sure others will understand where the Coens will come from with Hail, Caesar! and again, it is many things at once but I certainly found value with Hail, Caesar!