Isle of Dogs hits the screen at the Whistler Village 8 and, as expected, it's an uber-meticulous display of craftsmanship and quirk from the hyper-symmetrical mind of director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, Moonrise Kingdom).
In the near-future Japanese city of Megasaki, a dog-hating, disaster capitalist mayor uses a "dog flu" outbreak as reason to banish all canines to Trash Island, a post-nuclear garbage dump.
Shortly after, the mayor's own relative, a 12-year-old boy named Atari Kobayashi, jacks a small plane and flies out to Trash Island in search of his dog, Spots. After crash landing, he meets a gang of famously voiced mutts, including a rough stray/outsider named Chief and the rescue adventure begins...
Filmed in the same stop-motion animation style Anderson rocked with Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs is a visual marvel, so detail-rich it will keep core fans busy frame-by-framing it for months. (The internet is already lit up with shot-by-shot analysis of the influence of Japanese film legend Akira Kurosawa on much of Isle of Dogs).
And they're not wrong. Wes Anderson loves movies and he makes movies he loves—this is apparent. Whether we like them or not is less important. And not everyone loves Isle of Dogs. For sure, the pacing meanders (in true Kurosawa form) and the tone is much colder and more mechanized than Fantastic Mr. Fox, but the main issue people seem to be having with this one is whether Anderson is affectionate of Japanese culture, or appropriating it (mostly because while he shows reverence for the history and imagery he also has a white girl student/activist—voiced by director Greta Gerwig—who swoops in and saves the day).
Criticism like this is common these days—often it's valid, sometimes it's all a bit much (did you get permission from the wind before you farted today?)—but I think they are barking up the wrong tree here. As an artist, Anderson doesn't owe anyone anything and he has always made films exactly as he wants.
Art is not meant to be sterile and with Isle of Dogs, Anderson's admiration for Kurosawa (who made a film called Stray Dog) and the culture is in the details. He also hints at everything from fascist deportation and genocide to scapegoating and political corruption all while pushing the limits of what can be done with some furry models, cotton balls, and a healthy dose of obsessive compulsive disorder.
Mostly it's about dogs, though, and that's good enough for me.
Also opening this week, Rampage is based on a video game from the arcade era, a time where games lacked extended plots, characters or mythologies. As such, the Rampage game was simple—put in a quarter, choose your favourite giant monster (knock-off Godzilla, knock-off King Kong, or Werewolf) and smash a city while eating people, some of whom are taking a shower when you grab them.
The cinematic Rampage fleshes things out a bit more (without giving any more flesh—it's PG). Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson stars as a loner monkey scientist who shares an "unshakable bond" with George, a highly intelligent silverback gorilla.
Cue the rogue genetic experiment gone awry and next thing you know George is a giant monster of rage and destruction. And he's not alone (Lizard! Wolf!). As these marvels of science's folly rampage through North America, it's up to The Rock (with a sexy female scientist sidekick of course) to chill his old buddy George the heck out, so they can work together to save the world.
No pre-screeners for this one and it's directed by still-looking-for-that-first-hit Brad Peyton (San Andreas, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), but The Rock elevates any material and if you want to see some carnage, Rampage is only a couple letters off.
The Stream/Download of the week is Molly's Game, a based-on-a-true story about an almost-Olympic freestyle skier who ends up running the most exclusive, high-stakes underground poker games in the world—until the FBI suddenly kicks in her door with guns raised and a fistful of serious charges.
The intro scene of this one is among the most tense ever made and writer/director Aaron Sorkin's writing is utterly top notch here. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) stars in the titular role with Idris Elba (The Wire) playing her lawyer and Molly's Game is one of the best flicks of last year, even at 140 min.
It's available to rent on iTunes this week. (And "Player X" is apparently Tobey Maguire, FYI. No wonder he was the shittiest of all the Spider-Mans).