5 ideas about a movie: Isle of Dogs

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of one peculiar little picture. This is Isle of Dogs.

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

  1. Isle of Dogs was written and directed By Wes Anderson and was undeniably his picture. His style of filmmaking is just so unique and different that it is impossible to confuse his films with anyone else’s. While Anderson did write the screenplay himself, the story credits went to Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman (two of Anderson’s frequent collaborators), and Kunichi Nomura (a Japanse actor/writer who was also one of the two casting directors for this film).
  2. I have seen a lot of articles and comments online about Isle of Dogs in relation to the appropriation of Japanese culture. I certainly had a similar thought when watching the movie. I wasn’t entirely sure why the setting had to be Japan, though I found the interplay between the languages – English and Japanese – quite an interesting choice for the film. I also wouldn’t like to state that the filmmaker was definitely appropriating something as I believe that cultures should be shared. And yet, where is the line between respectful homage and appreciation versus malevolent appropriation?
  3. In my mind, Isle of Dogs’ story unfolded on two plains: the surface and the hidden one. The surface story was an elaborate but clear adventure narrative about some dogs and a boy fighting an evil empire. That story was a bit slow but the humor was still snappy (the comedic timing was quite impeccable). The deeper meaning that I took from the picture was the commentary on the modern society, which enjoys nothing more than othering and excluding people that it finds unsuitable for a whole number of reasons (a lot of which relate to the person’s identity).
  4. I highly enjoyed the format of Isle of Dogs. I have always been a fan of the stop-motion animation and I sill find it just so captivating. The amount of work that goes into this style of animation blows my mind every time I see a new film using it. The design of the animals was also great – real but not really. Every shot felt just so material: saturated with objects, colors, and textures. The symmetrical steady shots also felt very Anderson. The film was also very musical in that its score had an underlying beat, constantly ringing in the background, which provided a sort of rhythmic backdrop for the story. The animation, art, and music departments should get as much recognition for this movie as Anderson himself does.
  5. Isle of Dogs’ voice cast was full of Hollywood’s most recognizable and expressive voices that added so much to the picture. Bryan Cranston (Trumbo, Power Rangers), Edward Norton (Collateral Beauty), Bill Murray (The Jungle Book), Jeff Goldblum (ID2, Thor 3), Bob BalabanGreta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Frances McDormand (Three Billboards), Scarlett Johansson (Ghost in the Shell, MCU), and Tilda Swinton (Okja, Doctor Strange) all had roles of varying sizes.  On the Japanese front, Koyu Rankin, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama and even Yoko Ono lent their voices to some characters.

In brief, Isle of Dogs was a bizarre and fascinating Wes Anderson-y ride that might or might not have been culturally insensitive.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Isle of Dogs trailer

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Movie review: Ghostbusters

Movie reviews

Hello!

Sometimes, there comes a movie that ignites and divides the Internet and the latest film to do so is the new Ghostbusters all-female remake. The last 3 words of the previous sentence tell you everything you need to know about the big fight. Some individuals are angry because it is a female Ghostbusters picture, other are enraged because it is simply a remake of a classical film. The third party consists of trolls, who like to see the world burn.

My personal stance on this film is/was kinda neutral, calm and open. I liked the idea of a female group in a lead since I’m a female cinephilé. The fact that it is a remake and not an original female sci-fi comedy is not great, but it doesn’t infuriate me to the point that I would attack somebody online. I did not grow up with the original films of the 80s or the cartoons of the 80s and 90s – I have seen them and enjoyed the viewing experience but never thought about them as something really special – so maybe my lack of personal emotional ties to the property allowed me to be more distant and level-headed. The critics gave the new film an okay score and, so far, all of the reviews I watched or read deemed the movie fine or okay. So, let’s see what I thought.

IMDb summary: Following a ghost invasion of Manhattan, paranormal enthusiasts Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates, nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann, and subway worker Patty Tolan band together to stop the otherworldly threat.

Writing

Ghostbusters’s script was written by Katie Dippold and the director Paul Feig. This duo has previously worked on the comedy The Heat, which I loved. Ghostbusters’s story, on the other hand, was only okay. I liked the moments when the characters were going crazy about science and were just unleashing their inner nerds – if this makes more girls try out S.T.E.M. studies, I will count the film as, at least, partially successful. I also liked the inclusion of the online commentators in the movie – that moment felt really meta, knowing the backlash that the feature’s trailer sparked online. I also liked all the movie references: Patrick Swayze shout-out was fun, the Jaws’s reference involving the mayor was spot on and the Clark Kent joke was quite nice, although they could have made some kind of Thor joke, given that that’s the role that Chris Hemsworth actually plays. I also liked the inside references – I liked that they included both Slimer and Stay Puft Marshmallow Man into the picture. I also liked the underlying message of the film that all people seek approval, one way or the other.

On the other hand, some narrative ideas and concepts infuriated me. For one, all of the jokes at the expense of male characters were pushed too far and the whole writing for male characters was just terrible. I know that male dominated films have used female characters as sexualised objects or eye candy, but I don’t want female-driven films repeating the same mistakes. In a world, where universal acclaim is the goal, any kind of vengeful ideas or supposed payback both have no place. The second thing that angered me was the fact that Ghostbusters were too afraid to go all the way – yes, they broke the gender norms and I applaud them for that, but they left all the racial stereotypes for no goddam reason. Moreover, some of the plotlines and plot-twist were way too cliche: what was that Ghostjumpers’s reference? Was that supposed to be a nod to the original Ghostbusters? The whole mayor sideline, while it allowed for some good jokes, did not need to be in the film AGAIN. Lastly, why the big villain of the story could take any shape again? That has been done already (although, I liked that the villain took the shape of their logo). In addition, why did the thing that will destroy the city had to be a huge cloud/vortex/beam? Aren’t there any other ways to destroy the world on screen?

Directing

Paul Feig, who has previously directed Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy – all movies that I actually enjoyed despite not being the biggest fan of comedies – did an okay job with the direction of the Ghostbusters. The CGI looked much better that it did in the 80s, as it should have. The pace of the film was also fine and there were some nice action moments dispersed throughout the runtime of the picture. The scenes during the end credits were also neat and it was also great to hear the original Ghostbusters theme by Ray Parker Jr in a theater once again. In general, the film was kinda cliche but still kinda fun. The main problem I had with the directing of the film was that the Ghostbusters remake didn’t know what it wanted to be. At times, it strived for the action-sci-fi-comedy genre, but it also had numerous moments that belonged to a cartoon parody of a film.

Acting

Melissa McCarthy starred as Dr. Abby Yates, while Kristen Wiig played Dr. Erin Gilbert. They seem to be playing the characters that they always portray – the crazy one and the serious one. Although, to be truthful, McCarthy probably played the least crazy character of her career and I actually really liked her character and the performance. Generally, I do like McCarthy’s characters when she is working with Feig, I just wish she stopped working with her husband Ben Falcone because Tammy and The Boss weren’t great. Wiig’s performance was fine as well, but nothing too special. I like her much more in dramatic rather than comedic roles – she was really good in The Martian.

Kate McKinnon portrayed Dr. Jillian Holtzmann and I had mixed feelings about her character and the portrayal. I liked her look the most out of the 4 leads and she did seem the most interesting and unique. However, at times, her character acted just too weirdly, so that the whole performance turned into a parody and the character into a caricature. McKinnon is mostly known for her sketch comedy work and some of her scenes did feel like over-acted SNL skits. I wish her performance would have been elevated to the big screen level, but I’m still excited to give her another chance, starting with the upcoming Christmas comedy – Office Christmas Party.

While the main pair of the film was supposed to be Wiig’s and McCarthy’s characters, I actually like the chemistry between McCarthy’s and McKinnon’s characters much more and would have loved to see even more of them together.

Leslie Jones portrayed Patty Tolan and was also one of my favorites. Her character was a bit stereotypical but that’s the problem with the writing, not acting, so I’m absolutely disgusted by the hate she received on Twiter. I really liked how Jones delivered her one-liners and snarky reaction remarks and I also appreciated the fact that, through her character, the audiences could at least try to understand the science mumbo-jumbo. Moving forward, Jones will voice a character in SING.

Chris Hemsworth as Kevin Beckman. I hated the writing for Hemsworth’s character and I have no idea why he even chose to play this role, since he has some better things coming up. He still has a few Marvel movies to do, he will be in Star Trek 4 and he just had another mildly but still successful live-action fairytale – The Huntsman. The only saving grace for his character were those few scenes in the end, when he became the main antagonists but even that development didn’t go anywhere interesting.

The cameos: some of the cameos were nice, I especially liked Sigourney Weaver’s and Ernie Hudson’s appearances. Bill Murray’s cameo was a hit and miss for me, it didn’t even seem like he wanted to be there.

All in all, Ghostbusters remake was a mixed bag of a film. It had some nice moments as well as some terrible ones. I don’t think that it deserved so much hate that it received, but I also cannot say that I understand why it had to be made.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Ghostbusters trailer

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Movie review: The Jungle Book

Movie reviews

Hello!

A few weeks ago, the first live-action fairytale reached theaters (The Huntsman: Winter’s War). Now, let’s talk about this summer movie season’s second feature of this genre – The Jungle Book!

IMDb summary: The man-cub Mowgli flees the jungle after a threat from the tiger Shere Khan. Guided by Bagheera the panther and the bear Baloo, Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery, though he also meets creatures who don’t have his best interests at heart.

Adaptation from animation

2016’s live action film is an adaptation of the 1967 animated feature, so, in preparation for this year’s film, I revisited the old animated classic. I concluded this: the 2D animation is still beautiful while the story and the premise remain timeless – I mean, who doesn’t like cute talking and singing animals? My favorite moments from the original film are all the elephant sequences (‘an elephant never forgets‘) and, of course, the iconic song – The Bare Necessities. The_Jungle_Book_poster

The character of Mowgli has originally been created by the author Rudyard Kipling in the 19th century. While I don’t remember reading any of his stories as a child, I do recall the times when I used to play a Mowgli video game. I was never much of a gamer and never really had the latest technology to play the games on, but I distinctly remember playing some kind of Mowgli game – I think you had to jump and pick up bananas or something. It was the early 2000s, so the games weren’t as advanced as they are now.

2016’s The Jungle Book is not the first, neither the last time that Hollywood is remaking the original animated picture into a live action feature. Back in 1994, Disney made a live-action version of the story with Jason Scott Lee as Mowgli. In 2018, Andy Serkis (Planet of the Apes) will finally release his Jungle Book film – that movie has been pushed back numerous times and will serve as a full directorial debut for Serkis. 2018’s film will also feature a star-studded cast, who will motion capture and voice the animals . However, the 2016’s version also has a bunch of big names, headlining the movie.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

The Jungle Book’s screenplay was written by Justin Marks. Marks doesn’t have any big writing credits on his IMDb page. Nevertheless, he did a really nice job with the story.

To begin with, I don’t think that they changed the original story of the animated picture that much (except the very ending) – they only expanded on it a.k.a. added more details. For example, we found out that elephants were the ones who ‘created’ the jungle. The viewers were also introduced to the ideas of truce at the peace rock during the dry season and the Laws of the jungle. Shere Khan also appeared more consistently throughout the film, instead of just showing up at the end. His plan to get Mowgli to come to him was also a nice addition. Moreover, Mowgli’s parent’s backstory, which involved Shere Khan, added more depth to the characters and made the story more logical. The role of the ‘mother’ wolf was also expanded. The only gripe that I had about the narrative of the film was the question why some animals could talk while others could not.

The human village in the film also had a more prominent role – Mowgli got the fire from that village instead of getting it from the lighting, as in the animated picture. This tiny change made the story more sophisticated and more heartfelt. The film also stressed the importance of team-work, although the individual courage was also praised. The ideas of belonging and searching for identity were also explored.

The only big change that the filmmakers made to the plot was the ending  – Mowgli stayed in the jungle, while he usually goes to live in the human village in other versions of the story. However, since this film earned a lot of money during its opening weekend and the critics are loving it as well, Disney will most definitely make a sequel, so they will probably make Mowgli’s move to the human village – the main plotline of the next film.

Directing

The Jungle Book was directed by Jon Favreau. I am most familiar with his work on Marvel Phase 1 films – Iron Man 1 +2. A few years ago, he also wrote, directed and starred in comedy-drama Chef, which I quite enjoyed. I also recently watched one of Favreau’s earliest films – a Christmas comedy Elf (I did not like that film and found it extremely annoying).

Speaking about Favreau’s work on  The Jungle Book – I think he successfully brought this classic story to life, for a new generation. The film had more action than the original animated feature and the whole plot was very high energy, starting with the opening chase/run. In addition, the visuals of the scenery, as well as the realistic look of the animals, were both amazing – I was extremely impressed with the CGI. My favorite scenic sequences were the sped-up montage of the dry season and the falling waterfalls. All of the animals looked amazing, but I especially liked Baloo’s and Raksha’s spiky and soft fur versus Bagheera’s sleek looking fur. The little wolf Grey was also extremely cute. Plus, the design of the snake – Kaa –  was also pretty spectacular. I mean, that python was huge! The fire sequences, both in Kaa’s story and the 3rd act of the film, were great as well. Lastly, the ending – the closing of the book –  was very reminiscent of the original animated picture’s beginning and ending and was a nice nod to this story’s past. The way they used the visuals of the book during the actual end credits was also quite nice and entertaining way to finish the movie.

Music

John C. Debney scored the film. I really loved the fact they include the iconic ‘The Bare Necessities’ song – it fit nicely into the plot of the film. However, the other song from the original animation – ‘I Wan’na Be Like You’  – felt out of place in the live-action movie. Since this remake was not a musical, I think that one song from the original picture would have been enough. Nevertheless, I did like the end credits song – also from the original animated movie – ‘Trust in Me’ as performed by Scarlett Johansson

Acting

Favreau used computer generated imagery rather than the motion capture technology to bring this story to live, so the majority of the cast only did voice work.

  • Bill Murray as Baloo was the funniest character in the film. He was also very smart and cunning (in a good way). I loved his line about the Law of the Jungle: ‘That’s not a song, that’s propaganda!’ – it was quite an adult humor. However, other Baloo’s lines about hibernation (‘I nap…a lot’) were funny to all age groups. Murray did an amazing job with his voice work.
  • Ben Kingsley (Stonehearst Asylum) as Bagheera was the sassiest character. I especially enjoyed his line about bears and work. Kingley’s voice was very appropriate for the character and I also enjoyed listening to his narration at the beginning of the film.
  • Idris Elba (Beasts of no Nation) as Shere Khan was quite scary and furious villain. I didn’t recognize Elba at first, but his voice was very fitting to the character and really brought the tiger to live. Elba will also be voicing one the characters in the upcoming Finding Dory film.
  • Scarlett Johansson (Marvel) as Kaa was also really good. Johansson’s voice was very haunting, thus, fitting to the snake, who can hypnotize people and animals. Johansson is not a newcomer, when it comes to voice acting – she was the voice of the computer in 2013’s Her and will also be voicing one of the characters in this year’s computer-animated musical comedy Sing.
  • Lupita Nyong’o (Star Wars) voiced Raksha and did a great job – her voice was very loving and full of motherly emotions.
  • Giancarlo Esposito (The Scorch Trials) did the voice of Akela, while Christopher Walken (Eddie the Eagle) voiced King Louie – they both did a nice job in a few scenes they had.

The film’s main character was played by a newcomer Neel Sethi. Child actors have been getting better and better every year, so I don’t even think that it is appropriate to call them child actors – they are just actors. I first spotted this change with Jacob Tremblay in Room. Going back to Sethi as Mowgli: he was really really good – he was appropriately annoying yet still likable and funny. He probably spent the majority of his time on set, interacting with fake models and green screens and he still managed to do an amazing job. I wish the brightest future for this young performer.

In short, The Jungle Book was a feel-good film that put a smile on my face. I sincerely think that both adults and kids can enjoy it. It stressed the idea of being yourself no matter where you are by conveying this message through nice dialogue, spectacular visuals and a heartfelt performance of a newcomer lead actor.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: The Jungle Book trailer

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