Film Review: ISLE OF DOGS (USA 2017) ***** TOP 10

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Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a boy’s odyssey in search of his dog.


Wes Anderson


Wes Anderson (screenplay), Wes Anderson (story) | 3 more credits »


ISLE OF DOGS lies on many critics’ list as one of their most anticipated films of the year.  The reason is easy to see.  It has been 4 years since Anderson wowed both audiences and critics alike with the excellent THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL.  ISLE OF DOGS is also Anderson’s second animated feature after THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX and judging from that film, ISLE OF DOGS arrives with high expectations.  Fortunately, these are all met.  The film also won Anderson the Silver Bear Award for Best Director for ISLE OF DOGS which also opened the Berlin International Film Festival.

In a dystopian future Japan, dogs have been quarantined and banished to a remote island due to a “canine flu”.  Major Kobayashihas (Kunichi Nomura) who has won the election and has convinced all his voters that this is the best idea.  The all-important question is then posed; “Whatever happened to man’s best friend?”  

There is hope for the dogs.  A boy, ironically the major’s nephew, Atari (Koyu Rankin), ventures to the island to search for his dog, Spots (Liev Screiber).  There is at least one human being who still loves his pet dog.  Dogs Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex  (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and King (Bob Balaban) help him search for Spots and evade the authorities.  Eventually Atari discovers his uncle’s plot to eliminate all dogs on the isle and with the help of the dogs led by Chief saves the dog world.  The film is enough to seriously have audiences consider getting themselves a pet dog after watching the moving saga.

The film is shot in both English and Japanese.  The dogs speak English which English audiences understand while the humans speak Japanese which the dogs (and audiences do not understand).  This is a brilliant concept which is even more brilliant when one considers the reverse effect when Japanese watch the film.

The ensemble voice cast is impressive but largely wasted as many of the voices cannot be recognized.  Even Yoko Ono is on the list, but very few know what she sounds like, less alone the more famous stars that include Ken Watanabe, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Scarlett Johansson, Greta Gerwig, just to name a few.

And the film is extremely funny with more than I can count, laugh-out loud moments.  Anderson’s humour is mostly tongue-in-cheek, which is not the characteristic humour (slapstick, sarcasm, dead-pan) found in many films.   Examples are the way Anderson shoots his animated feature as if all happening is live action.  The segment on the liver transplant is done in an overhead shot as if the operation is actually filmed live with live characters.  Dialogue like one dog saying: “The ones I want are never in heat!” or “I see cats with more balls than you guys,” also come across as very funny in their situations.  The most hilarious of these occur after the film’s climax where the mayoral elections are finally over with the commentator announcing in a sort of anti-climaxed statement: “Boy, What a night!”

On originality alone, ISLE OF DOGS scores 100% which makes it one of the first 10 best films of 2018.  Boy! What a movie!



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collateralbeauty_movie_poster.jpgCOLLATERAL BEAUTY (USA 2016) **
Directed by David Frankel

Starring: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Michael Peña, Naomie Harris, Keira Knightley

Review by Gilbert Seah

The subject of coping with death has been dealt in dozens of ways in films. In the recent ARRIVAL, the death of Amy Adam’s daughter is tied into the main plot of alien arrival. This worked. In another space film GRAVITY, the Sandra Bullock character is given the grief of a dead child to humanize her character. The ploy did not work and the story looked totally fake. In the recent praised MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, Casey Affleck’s character comes to terns with death in a gut-wrenching emotional tale of redemption. In David Frankel’s COLLATERAL BEAUTY based on a script by Allan Roeb, Will Smith’s character finally accepts his daughter’s death with all the sugar coating of all the Christmas cakes in a pastry shop. Despite attempts to make the story believable, COLLATERAL BEAUTY is plain horrid!

When the trailer for COLLATERAL BEAUTY first appeared on the internet, Guardian Magazine came out with an article heralding the arrival of the worst movie of 2016. And understandably so! The trailer showed Will Smith as a man grieving the death of his daughter by writing letters to Death, Time and Love. Scenes that follow show the personifications of these abstractions with Smith speaking to each of them, played by Helen Mirren, Jacob Latimore and Keira Knightley respectively. The music and mood are sloppy sweet sugary, especially catered for Christmas. Who would want to watch such Hollywood bulls***? There is one word for all this, in the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge – HUMBUG!

But the film is not all that bad. The reason that Death, Time and Love are in the story, actors playing the parts, is to fool Howard Inlet (Smith) so that he can be deemed mentally unfit to hold on to his shares and thus prevent his firm from being sold. So three employees, who have worked with Howard since the incident of his daughter’s death, Whit (Edward Norton), Simon (Michael Pena) and Claire (Kate Winslet) plot the scheme. But this not not mean that the film is all that good either.

Director Frankel who directed THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA knows how to set up scenes. The first 10 minutes of PRADA when Meryl Streep, the no-nonsense head of the Prada office strides in – to the total disarray of all the other scattering employees is one unforgettable, beautifully executed scene. There are a few of these in COLLATERAL BEAUTY, like the confrontation scene between Howard and Time on the subway train, but the individual set-ups do not work on the whole. The metaphor of the falling dominoes is used to the maximum of a ridiculous three times. The film eventually settles to boredom as it is hard to care for characters made so unbelievable.

It is a complete waste to see Oscar Winners Winslet and Mirren in this silly story. Mirren does bring a bit of dignity into this nonsense but she must be laughing her head off, off screen.

The film partly works when it pokes fun at the credibly of the story. When Howard looks shocked at the sudden appearance of Death, Time and Love, the shock looks genuine – probably because of genuine disbelief. The film is the worst when Howard pines over his dead daughter – the worst of the worst has him watching a video of him playing with her, when she was still alive in a park, and shouting… “Daddy, daddy!” If this scene was not so obviously manipulative, it might have jerked a tear or two from a few of an innocent audience.

There is a twist in the plot at the end which makes no sense to the whole story of what Howard is going through.

Christmas brings along good films – Oscar contenders. But it also brings the worst of Hollywood films – COLLATERAL BEAUTY being one of them.


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