“Isle of Dogs”
It has taken me a while to warm up to Wes Anderson films. While I’ve admired their eccentric subject matters, the combination of sad and wacky effects, the fast-paced dialogue and his always-impeccable casting choices, they weren’t enough to make me like the whole; in fact, they often left me feeling detached and irritated, as though something that could have been great fell far short. However, with “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and now, “Isle of Dogs,” my mind has been changed. Exploring some of the same themes as “Grand Budapest”—fascism based on greed and material gain and the fact that we have no control over where life can lead us—this latest Anderson work, a brilliant stop-motion animated feature film, tells of a future Japanese city in which the canine population has become man’s worst enemy instead of best friend. A boy embarks on a journey to rescue his beloved dog, which has been deported to Trash Island. In fact, all dogs have been deported there, as we used to do with lepers. Why? Because they supposedly carry a dangerous strain of flu. Which they do, but not really; nefarious schemes are behind it all and the insatiable need for power is running the show.
“Isle of Dogs” has a brilliant cast of voices for the dogs: Bryan Cranston, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Scarlett Johansson—too many more to name, but many of them Anderson regulars. By turns wry, scary, comical and deeply gloomy, it lingers on each emotional note for only moments, then hops onto the next. It’s fast-paced and gorgeous to look at, but the images can be somewhat off-putting (the skeleton of a dead dog, the deliberate poisoning of a scientist), so if most cartoons are aimed at children, this one will be much more satisfying to grown-ups and definitely to Wes Anderson fans. This critic is now firmly one of them.
“Ready Player One”
Steven Spielberg films seem to reflect two sides of his nature: the lonely child who finds solace in fantasy (“ET” and the Indiana Jones saga) or the passionate adult (“Schindler’s List,” “Lincoln,” “The Post”). “Ready Player One” is firmly in the first camp. Based on the 2011 New York Times bestseller by Ernest Cline, it’s set in a dystopian Ohio future, where everyone is choking on garbage and stale air and overpopulation, and where the only escape is by immersing oneself in video games. Here, just by putting on special goggles, players can have their brave and beautiful avatars undertake adventures in a made-up domain named OASIS, which—ready?—stands for Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation. The film goes back and forth between this real and this fantasy world, lightly hitting some deeper themes, one of which is the fact that power consolidated into one person, or one organization, cannot be tolerated if the planet and mankind are to survive.
I am not the target audience for this film: I have not read the book, I am not a male between 18 and 35 and I have never played a video game in my life. But I have often feared for our future as video gaming, over-texting and watching instead of interacting with each other have become rampant in our society. One of the messages of the film, as a matter of fact, is just that: Spend some time in the real world and try to make it better instead of surrendering to fantasy. So, even though I’m not the target audience, and even though it went on too long and sagged somewhat in the last half, I was carried away by the gorgeous special effects, the energy and Spielberg’s sheer joy in filmmaking. Oh, and Mark Rylance plays a nerdy, sweet genius to perfection, and I will see anything in which Mark Rylance appears. Enjoy; it’s fun.