Tag Archives: Isle of Dogs

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #23 – WES ANDERSON

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #23 – WES ANDERSON

quirky
[ˈkwəːki]
ADJECTIVE


“having or characterized by peculiar or unexpected traits or aspects.
“her sense of humour was decidedly quirky”


synonyms:
eccentric · idiosyncratic · unconventional · unorthodox · unusual · off-centre · strange · bizarre · weird · peculiar · odd · freakish · outlandish · offbeat · out of the ordinary · Bohemian · alternative · zany · outré ·


I thought I’d save myself a lot of time using the above variant words in one go. Because they, and the word auteur, are utterly inevitable while writing a short article in praise of the Wes Anderson films I rate. It’s intriguing to write about Anderson though. While many of the pieces in the My Cinematic Romance series concentrate on people in cinema I absolutely adore, he is more a filmmaker who I respect rather than have an undying emotional connection with.

Wes Anderson is a phenomenal filmmaker with an imaginative set of style and narrative conceits. Everyone one of his releases is a rich tapestry containing memorable ensemble casts, adjacent framing, effervescent use of colour, geographical pertinence, intellectual humour and subjects situated in the far left field of genre cinema. Yet, I don’t enjoy ALL of his films. Often they veer too far into eccentric pretentiousness. Indeed, I was going to write a review of The French Dispatch (2021), but I found it frustratingly dull and, other than the tremendous story set in the asylum with the mad artist (Benicio Del Toro) disconnected with it on the whole. But, I must say, it was another admirable work of cinema, but one I did not enjoy as a paying punter.

So, rather than write a middling review about a genius filmmaker’s latest work, here is a piece about my favourite five films of Wes Anderson.

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



BOTTLE ROCKET (1996)

Anderson’s debut feature film is based on his short film of the same name. Co-written with Owen Wilson, it is a freewheeling take on the heist movie which eschews hard-boiled professionals for a group of hapless losers led by the positively loopy Dignan (Wilson again). Shot way before Anderson got his ruler and set square out, it’s a naturally filmed, hilarious character comedy that destabilises crime genre conventions with charming effect. Launching the acting careers of the Wilson brothers it is an oddly charming filmic treat.


RUSHMORE (1998)

This is still my favourite Wes Anderson film because it combines a perfect combination of uncommon humour and prevailing verisimilitude. What I mean is I did not feel I was watching a showcase of artistic flourishes, but a true human story full of empathetic characters, feeling and emotion. It is also incredibly funny as we follow the rites of passage story of school maverick, Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a working class kid rebelling against the adults he believes are beneath him. Bill Murray’s career renaissance began here and his character’s vengeful battles with Max are one of the film’s many highlights.


THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001)

The first Wes Anderson film that saw the stylistic devices and themes so prevalent in his later work to truly come to the fore. The ensemble cast crammed with famous names, the omnipotent narrator, symmetrical framing, consistent and complimentary colour palettes, typography, fantastic use of nostalgic music, distinctive costumes and stories structured in chapters of the literary kind. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) contains many absurd comedic moments, but has several tragic scenes too. This demonstrates Anderson’s growing maturity and remains a confident vision of a dysfunctional American family of geniuses and misfits.


THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)

While Rushmore (1998) is my favourite film of Wes Anderson, his best is the tour-de-force comedy, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). It’s the pinnacle of bravura style and well-honed narrative competence, confidently presenting the rags-to-riches story of Zero Moustafa beginning in 1930s. Europe. Moustafa’s story takes in his first love, his job at the opulent hotel and his moving friendship with the prideful Gustave, an amazing Ralph Fiennes. It’s a film packed with invention, colour, humour, sadness and romance all wrapped in themes of the rise of fascism, loss, love and the wonder of friendship.


ISLE OF DOGS (2018)

Put aside ridiculous millennial online accusations of cultural appropriation and submerge yourself within Anderson’s rich canine narrative and stop-motion tapestry. As aforementioned, I’m not always a fan of his story subjects but he is a master of style and form. Isle of Dogs (2018) is no different and is a wonderful cinematic experience. Set in Japan we concentrate on, hence the title, a bunch of stray dogs dumped on a wasteland left to die and their subsequent adventures. This is much darker than prior Anderson films, but full of the imagination, wit, colour and brilliant technique, containing funny gags and twisting drama throughout. I preferred this to his version of the Roald Dahl classic, Fantastic Mr Fox (2009), as Bryan Cranston and the marvellous cast breathe life into the Anderson’s visionary animated box of tricks.

SCREENWASH – WORLD CINEMA SPECIAL including reviews of: THE SQUARE (2017), ISLE OF DOGS (2018), JULIETA (2016) etc.

SCREENWASH – WORLD CINEMA REVIEW SPECIAL!

Technically speaking all films made can be labelled World Cinema because all films made were made on this Earth or World. As yet we know of no movies from other planets, so World Cinema has come to refer to films made in a foreign language or language other than English. I mean what do people from other countries call films made in English?  And does it matter. All this fluffing is really a means to introduce a selection of films from various countries other than the United Kingdom (another debatable term these days), that I have watched at the cinema, on DVD or streamed off the box. As usual I accompany my reviews with marks out of eleven.

**A SUGGESTION OF SPOILERS**

THE INNOCENTS (2016) – FRANCE / POLAND

Brace yourself for a truly heart-breaking and tragic WW2 narrative. This film inspired by true events finds a young French doctor assisting a nunnery and the various occupants who became victim to vicious rapist Soviet soldiers. This is a grim story that is shot and directed with great pathos and compassion. It brought a heavy heart and a tear to the eye as the heroic women battle against the dogs of war, while bringing new life into this retched world.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

ISLE OF DOGS (2018) – JAPAN / USA

Put aside ridiculous millennial online accusations of cultural appropriation and submerge yourself within Wes Anderson’s rich narrative and stop-motion tapestry. I’m not always a fan of his story subjects but he is a master of style and form. Isle of Dogs is no different and was a wonderful cinematic experience. Set, obviously, in Japan we concentrate on, hence the title, a bunch of stray dogs dumped on a wasteland left to die. This is much darker than prior Anderson films but full of the imagination, wit, colour and brilliant technique, containing funny gags and twisting drama throughout.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

JULIETA (2016) – SPAIN

I only really got into Pedro Almodovar’s cinema in the last few years and Julieta, while not as complex in terms of structure as other films, is just as emotionally effective.  It concerns our eponymous protagonist who on chancing an encounter with her estranged daughter’s former school mate finds her past colliding disastrously with her future. Emma Suarez and Adriana Ugarte portray the older and younger versions of Julieta as she reflects on the events which tore her life apart. Containing some beautiful filmmaking and one incredible cut halfway through, this is mournful, meditative and mature storytelling of the highest order.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

L’AVVENTURA (1960) – ITALY

Michelangelo Antonioni is rightly lauded as one of the great Italian auteurs. He has directed some incredible films including: Blow Up (1966), The Passenger (1975) and the film L’Notte (1961). I watched L’Avventura on a Sunday morning and perhaps I wasn’t in the mood but it did not connect with me. I found it slow and pretentious and while the mystery of a missing socialite had some element of suspense the rich, narcissistic characters bored me. The acting from Monica Vitti was especially impactful and the scenery was beautiful, however, Antonioni’s existential narrative was a let-down. It was especially surprising to find that historically the film had been voted one of the best films ever made.

Mark: 7 out of 11)

THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN (1967) – HONG KONG

I recorded this one on Film Four on a whim having been drawn in by the fact it was directed by the Shaw Brothers Studio. Their films were of course a massive influence on Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003/4) duo of kung-Fu revenge films. The One-Armed Swordsman I found to be slightly cheesy due to the dubbing but overall an excellent wuxia epic with loads of great sword fights and a very effective narrative. Ultimately this is Great Expectations with weapons as a young servant child is adopted by a rich family only to grow up disrespected by his adopted siblings. Gang warfare rages in the rural territories and the young man grows up to be a fighter of some repute; even with only one arm. Both a tremendous action film and effective socialist critique of the ruling classes I found this an entertaining, funny and emotional wuxia classic.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

THE SQUARE (2017) – SWEDEN / FRANCE / GERMANY

The 2017 Cannes Palm D’Or winner is half brilliantly funny arthouse satire and half sub-Haneke allegorical mid-life crisis thriller. Written and directed by Ruben Ostlund this is bravura cinema of the highest order as we find Claes Bang’s museum curator bumbling through various work, romance and private disasters.  Throughout there are some wonderful digs at the nature of modern art and how essentially people will believe any old crap to be art if it is put in a gallery. There are a number of hilarious satirical set-pieces including the “Tourette’s” scene and the “performance ape-ist” scene. While a tad overlong and bogged down slightly in the lead protagonist’s personal life this is a wonderfully, funny film with some great commentary on modern art, mocking of the bourgeoisie and a warning re: the rise of social media.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

SHIN GODZILLA (2016) – JAPAN

Having seen Hollywood appropriate their Gojira creation for two films in 1998 and 2014, the Japanese released their own resurgent version in 2016. Part-disaster-part-monster-part-social-commentary this creature feature is actually pretty good. It is driven structurally at first by a flurry of government meetings where hundreds of officials spend their time in meetings rather than actually solve anything. Clearly, this is a critique of Japanese government bureaucracy and the movie works well on that level. The characters who later come to the fore are left behind somewhat and the romantic subplot is poorly done.  Yet, when the Godzilla monster brings Tokyo to the edge of destruction the effects, while a bit wonky in places, are a riotous mix of laser CGI and man-in-suit-green-screen shots.

(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)