Episode 114: Incredibles 2

It took us two tries but our second attempt succeeded in producing Episode 114: Incredibles 2. We are joined by returning guest Blaine Grimes (who also joined the show for Episode 36: The Incredibles) for this conversation about Brad Bird’s action-packed, culturally relevant, family superhero extravaganza. A sequel anxiously awaited for 14 years creates a lot expectations. Hear whether we felt the film lived up to ours or not in this fun discussion.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:40

(Aaron – Tag)
(Blaine – National Treasure 1 & 2)

Incredibles 2 Review – 0:11:00

The Connecting Point – 1:09:04


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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MOVIE REVIEW: Incredibles 2

INCREDIBLES 2 (2018)

1 Hour and 58 Minutes (PG)

Four years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off with Iron Man, and one year before Christopher Nolan began his beloved Dark Knight Trilogy with Batman Begins, Pixar entered the genre with a bang, pow, and pop in 2004 by releasing an animated superhero team-up the likes of which audiences had never really seen before. Brad Bird’s family superhero film, The Incredibles, went on to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and remains to this day the best cinematic version of Marvel’s Fantastic Four (despite not actually being a direct representation of those characters).

Now, fourteen years later, Bird is returning to the world of animation for the first time since 2007 with Incredibles 2, an animated sequel that fans have long desired. Unlike the movie landscape when Bird released his original, though, superhero films have become a powerful box office presence, with many years seeing the release of five or more. The challenge for Incredibles 2 is even bigger as it comes right on the heels of the two highest grossing superhero films of all-time: Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther. The question of whether audiences will embrace yet another superhero film so quickly is a fair one, but I’m ecstatic to say that odds are good because Bird and Pixar have provided us with a sequel that lives up to its title and was worth the 14-year wait.

Incredibles 2 doesn’t skip a beat, picking up immediately after the ending of The Incredibles, with a brand new villain having just emerged from beneath the city and our newly bonded family of heroes poised to take on the threat. But a desire to help sometimes manifests itself in bad decisions, and the Parr’s leave the city in quite a mess while constantly trying to pass off babysitting of Jack-Jack to each other during the ensuing fight. The destruction reminds the world just how dangerous superpowers can be. Aiming to reverse this perception, Winston and Evelyn Deaver (Bod Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) approach the family and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) with a proposal, to make Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) the face of superhero crime fighting and use a combination of their technology and media coverage to help show the world the benefit Supers can bring. As the story goes on (at an incredibly frantic pace), it explores Mr. Incredible’s (Craig T. Nelson) jealousy of Elastigirl’s new role, introduces a new villain who enslaves through the use of video screens, and excites with flurries of extremely well-animated action.

A major side plot of the film revolves around Mr. Incredible’s attempt to become a stay-at-home father for the first time and deal with the challenges of parenthood. Two of his more difficult tasks are trying to connect with his teenage daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) and discovering the various superhero abilities of his infant son. It’s a big change for Mr. Incredible and many viewers will relate to his experiences. As the film goes on, the familial struggles continue to be front and center, but Bird also has a lot to say about the world around us. His hilarious script is also smart and not only uses our culture’s addiction to video screens as a plot point but makes strong statements about the importance of equality and representation. Some viewers may find it a bit on the nose, but mostly these topics are all handled very subtly and never feel out of place in the narrative.

VERDICT

Reuniting with the Parr family in Incredibles 2 is a technically dazzling, joyful experience for kids and adults alike. Brad Bird’s story is culturally relevant and a lot of fun, but shines brightest when it stays grounded in the ongoing struggle of the Parr’s to find their place in the world and within their family. The Incredibles provide us with a family of heroes who we don’t just root for, but relate to, and even with the wealth of comic books films gracing movie screens in 2018, that is something special. Though it doesn’t quite reach the sharp perfection and emotional depth of its original, Incredibles 2 is the must-see animated film of the year.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Summer of Anime

Prologue: What’s This All About

Anime has always been one of those genres that I usually avoid. Until a couple of years ago, it was seen as this obscure foreign animation where the characters had exaggerated facial expressions and actions, and the stories were generally seen as bordering on the quirky and fantastical. To get me acclimated, I was introduced to Hayao Miyazaki, as he is typically seen as the standard for what really great Anime is. Since then, I’ve not stepped out of that comfort zone, with the exception of specific recommendations by friends or the occasional subject of an episode of Feelin’ Film. Which brings me here.

This summer I’ve decided to take a look at about a dozen highly regarded anime films from a breadth of directors and time periods. My goal, less about seeing as many as I can, is more about finding out what appeals to me, what surprises me, and what kind of connection I can have to each film.

Be sure to check back for the latest review. Enjoy!


Chapter 1: Grave of the Fireflies

Director: Isao Takahata
Year: 1988
Synopsis:The story of Seita and Satsuko, two young Japanese siblings, living in the declining days of World War II. When an American firebombing separates the two children from their parents, the two siblings must rely completely on one another while they struggle to fight for their survival.

One Word Takeaway: Abrupt

The story of Seita and Satsuko is one that needs to be heard. So often I find myself exposed to stories of war and all I hear are numbers and statistics. It’s difficult to think about mass casualties because there aren’t faces with those numbers. This film gives me context into the lives of people who are affected by war while not being directly connected to it. It challenges me to connect emotionally to these two characters who, while not real, represent a group of people that were exposed to the harshness of World War II on the other side of the world. It disrupts my life for an hour or two, making me uncomfortable, and that’s a good thing.

It’s a tragic story for sure, but that’s one of the things that separates it from most other anime. As Roger Ebert said, “Grave of the Fireflies is an emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of animation…..[it] is a powerful dramatic film that happens to be animated.”


Chapter 2: Whisper of the Heart

Director: Yoshifumi Kondō
Year: 1995
Synopsis: Based on the manga with the same title, this animated film follows Shizuku, an inquisitive young girl and a voracious reader, who longs to be a writer when she grows up. One day she notices that all of her library books have previously been taken out by one Seiji Amasawa. Amid chasing after a large cat, befriending an eccentric antiques dealer and writing her first novel, Shizuku aims to find this mysterious boy who may well be her soul mate.

One Word Takeaway: Risk

WHISPER OF THE HEART feels like a story in two parts. In one way, it’s a story of a young girl growing up, like many kids, trying to figure out who she wants to be and what she wants to do with her life. At the same time, it also has an almost forced romantic feel to it, in her unintentional pursuit of finding this mystery person whose name has been in all of the library books she checks out. What I connected with the most was the seeing how Shizuku, through a variety of experiences, learns that she has two choices when it comes to her writing. She can continue to dream and be a lover of this “idea” that one day she will be a great writer, but never actually realize that out of fear or discomfort. Or she can take a risk, knowing she will probably fail, only to continue to get better.

Actively making a choice, and risking failure, exists in anyone who has a big idea. This film is a good reminder that we should take risks, and have permission to fail. It’s because of this resonating theme that I feel like the other half of the film, her relationship with Seiji, feels forced, at least in parts. There are some wonderful moments between them and in different instances he acts as a sort of inspiration for her to think about what could be. The romantic slant that exists feels out of place and doesn’t really serve what I consider the more important aspects of the story.

Overall though, it’s a really enjoyable film.


Chapter 3: Perfect Blue

Director: Satoshi Kon
Year: 1997
Synopsis: A retired pop singer turned actress’ sense of reality is shaken when she is stalked by an obsessed fan and seemingly a ghost of her past.

One Word Takeaway: Blur

I wrestled with my one-word takeaway for this film, because it was difficult to sum up exactly how I felt after watching it. There are a handful of movies that get the “watch this once and move on” stamp from me, not because they are bad, but because the subject matter is so intense and moving that if watched multiple times, could lessen the impact it has. It is also incredibly hard to watch. PERFECT BLUE will live in the same category of other films such as AMERICAN HISTORY X, MISSISSIPPI BURNING, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, and CRASH. It’s a solid  film because of its depiction of what happens when a person, so bent on changing her image, will do whatever it takes to do so, and the gritty animation with it’s muted color palette helps accent the tone of the overall story. At the same time, there are moments in the movie that are hard to stomach. Rape is depicted and there are two to three lingering moments of violent murders, all of which contribute to the intentional discomfort the movie is trying to articulate.

What I think the movie does really well is use the storytelling device of the unreliable narrator. The lines of reality and fantasy are blurred through the eyes of the main character, and it’s difficult (sometimes to a fault) to know what’s real and what isn’t. As an audience I need to have some kind of assurance by the end of the story that I know what’s real and what isn’t. While I feel like there is some closure here, I’m mostly left wondering.

Overall, it’s hard to say if I would recommend this movie. On one hand, it’s a solid piece of storytelling, and one that uses the style of anime in a way that rivals cerebral procedural crime dramas. At the same time, the elements of rape and violence that are depicted aren’t for the faint of heart, and it’s not one that will be on my radar in the near future.


Chapter 4: Millennium Actress

Director: Satoshi Kon
Year: 2001
Synopsis: The story of two documentary filmmakers investigating the life of a retired acting legend. As she tells them the story of her life, the difference between reality and cinema becomes blurred.

One Word Takeaway: Motivation

If there is one thing I can say after two installments of Satoshi Kon’s work, it’s that he had one of the most creative ways of crafting his narrative. In some ways this was a serious departure from his previous film PERFECT BLUE, but in others it feels completely consistent in MILLENIUM ACTRESS. It is  incredibly purposeful, in that he doesn’t want to just tell you a story. He wants you to feel like you are part of the story. And in this film, he takes that to a literal level. What starts out as TV interviewer Genya Tachibana and his camera man Kyoji Ida talking to seasoned actress Chiyoko Fujiwara about her career, soon becomes an emotional and imaginative participation in that career.

We start with a simple camera and light pointed at her on a couch as she begins her story, then we move into flashbacks with Tachibana and Kyoji watching and filming documentary style, and soon after we see Tachibana fully participating in these memories as a character in these films she is recounting. It’s a wonderful way to show us the history of Chiyoko’s career, but also how much it meant to Tachibana, as we find out later why that is.

But the most interesting thing about this movie for me is the answer to a question it asks early on through Tachibana. How did Fujiwara begin such a long and successful career? It is through a chance encounter with a mysterious man, seemingly on the run from authorities, whom she befriends and hides. After his escape, she finds out that he is heading to Manchuria, and she uses an acting opportunity (discouraged earlier in the film by her mother) to find him. This moment begins what I believe is the overall motivation for her successful career, that pursuit of love over the course of 30 plus years. It is such a beautiful way to capture. The whole movie wraps up in a way that feels incredibly complete, and in some ways brutally satisfying (if that’s even possible).

After watching this film, I’m excited to see if the Satoshi Kon narrative creativity continues.


Patrick “Patch” Hicks calls Little Rock, Arkansas home with his family of four (his wife, son and two pets). When he’s not podcasting, he works as a multimedia designer and is also dabbling in the art of writing and directing. You can find him floating around the web on Twitter, Facebook, and his home on the web, ThisIsPatch.com.

Episode 112: Paddington 2

Grab a marmalade sandwich and get ready to smile as we discuss the surprise hit of 2018, a beary special, family-friendly film called Paddington 2. We also chat some about the adorable bear’s first adventure before getting into all of the reasons this sequel has charmed viewers old and young, critical and casual alike.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:21
(Aaron – Paddington, Adrift, Upgrade)
(Patrick – Paddington)

Paddington 2 Review – 0:16:39

The Connecting Point – 0:57:29


Contact


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

You Should Be Watching: May 24-30

Welcome to You Should Be Watching, my weekly opportunity to introduce you to a variety of great films, gems of the past and present, available for you to stream from Netflix, Amazon Prime, FilmStruck, and anywhere else streams are found. This week, I’m recommending one of the most classic of Westerns, a film about the love of cinema, and Don Bluth’s magical animated directorial debut about mice and rats. Also, among the films coming and going Coco arrives on Netflix this week and I, Tonya on Hulu.

 


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


High Noon

Year: 1952

Director: Fred Zinnemann

Genre: Western

Cast: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney Jr., Harry Morgan, Ian MacDonald, Eve McVeagh, Morgan Farley, Harry Shannon, Lee Van Cleef, Robert J. Wilke, Sheb Wooley, Jack Elam, John Doucette, Ted Stanhope, Lee Aaker, Guy Beach, Larry J. Blake, John Breen, Tex Driscoll, Herschel Graham, Paul Kruger, William H. O’Brien, Roy Bucko, Russell Custer, Nora Bush

 

<i>High Noon</i> is the epitome of the classic Western, featuring a small Old West town with a virtuous good guy lawman named Will Kane (Gary Cooper) and a formidable bad guy outlaw (and his gang) named Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), who is headed for town to get revenge against Kane for sending him to prison. To complicate matters even more, our hero, Marshal Kane, has just turned in his badge so he could marry his love, a pacifist Quaker named Amy (Grace Kelly), and with the news of Miller’s gang having arrived with Miller soon to follow, the newly married couple are rushed out of town in hopes of avoiding bloodshed. But Kane is torn between the love he has for his new bride and his duty to the unprotected town he was to leave behind, even though he struggles to find anyone willing to help him defend it.

This film is tightly scripted and tension-filled with the ever-present clock serving as a ongoing countdown towards the likely demise of both Kane’s life and his young marriage. And Amy’s discovery of “another woman” only makes matter worse. With each minute that passes, and with each request for help that’s refused, the desperation grows. Gary Cooper is a perfect fit for the Marshal role, stoic but heartfelt. Grace Kelly, in only her second film, delivers a wonderfully complex performance as the bride who loves her husband dearly but also has her own values to which she is fiercely loyal and refuses to sit around waiting for him to get killed.

EXPIRING: Last day to watch is 5/31


 

Cinema Paradiso

Year: 1988

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore

Genre: Romance, Drama

Cast: Philippe Noiret, Jacques Perrin, Marco Leonardi, Salvatore Cascio, Agnese Nano, Antonella Attili, Enzo Cannavale, Isa Danieli, Leo Gullotta, Pupella Maggio, Leopoldo Trieste, Tano Cimarosa, Nicola Di Pinto, Roberta Lena, Nino Terzo, Brigitte Fossey, Mariella Lo Giudice, Beatrice Palme, Franco Catalano, Giuseppe Tornatore, Giorgio Libassi, Mimmo Mignemi

 

If you love movies, if you love the cinema, if seeing the magical images flicker through the darkness on the screen in front of you fills you with the greatest of joys, <i>Cinema Paradiso</i> is for you. The film opens by introducing us to famous fictional film director Salvatore Di Vita receiving the news that Alfredo has died. Who is Alfredo, and what was his relationship with Salvatore? Flashing back to Salvatore at age 6, shortly after World War II, that story begins. Even at that young age, Salvatore, played with the utmost of precociousness by Salvatore Cascio, develops an intense love for the movies by practically living at his village’s local theater, the Cinema Paradiso, where we first meet Alfredo. But as the seasons of Salvatore’s young life go on, we learn he is no stranger to tragedy and must learn how to overcome. All the while, he continues to explore the world of film and develop the skills and experience that would turn him into the the master filmmaker he ultimately becomes. Over the course of the story, we experience various seasons of his young life and ultimately discover the positive and lasting impact one can have on a child’s life simply by taking the time to invest in him.


 

The Secret of N.I.M.H.

  

Year: 1982

Director: Don Bluth

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, Fantasy

Cast: Derek Jacobi, Elizabeth Hartman, Arthur Malet, Dom DeLuise, Hermione Baddeley, Shannen Doherty, Wil Wheaton, Jodi Hicks, Ian Fried, John Carradine, Peter Strauss, Paul Shenar

 

Don Bluth, the animation director perhaps most famous for the prehistoric classic <i>The Land Before Time</i> came out of the gate swinging with his directorial debut <i>The Secret of N.I.M.H.</i>, a brisk adaptation of the novel <i>Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H.</i>. Creatively combining science and dark fantasy with surprisingly mature themes such as the imminence of death and the ethics of animal experimentation, Bluth created a magical, vibrant, world rich in mythology and full of stunning hand-drawn animation that rivals most Disney features and will appeal to young and old alike. It’s inspiring to see the lone mother and widow Mrs. Brisby, voiced by Elizabeth Hartman, doing everything within her power to care for her children and save her sick son. While there is a tone of mystery and wonder throughout, unlike in many animated films, the audience is not spoon-fed information. Viewers are expected to pay attention, and they will be rewarded for doing so. Just for fun, listen for a very young Shannen Doherty and Wil Wheaton as Mrs. Brisby’s firstborn daughter Teresa and son Martin.

EXPIRING: Last day to watch is 5/31


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

May 27
Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014)
Middle of Nowhere (2012)

May 29
The Jungle Book (2016)

May 31
Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015)
Men In Black (1997)
My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown (1989)
Oldboy (2003)
Scarface (1983)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
The Resurrection of Jake the Snake (2015)
Training Day (2001)

 

AMAZON PRIME

May 30
1984 (1984)
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Breakdown (1997)
Chaplin (1992)
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Manhattan (1979)
Regarding Henry (1991)
The Secret of N.I.M.H. (1982)

May 31
From the Rocky Collection:

Rocky (1976)
Rocky II (1979)

From the James Bond Collection:

Dr. No (1962)
From Russia with Love (1963)
Goldfinger (1964)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

 

FILMSTRUCK

May 25
Brighton Rock (1948)
Carol Reed:

The Fallen Idol (1948)
The Third Man (1949)

May 31
High Noon (1952)

June 1
House of Flying Daggers (2004)
A Night At The Opera (1935)

June 8
Christopher Guest:

Best in Show (2000)
Waiting for Guffman (1996)

Elia Kazan:

On the Waterfront (1954)
A Face in the Crowd (1957)

 

HULU

May 31
1984 (1984)
Breakdown (1997)
Manhattan (1979)
The Secret of N.I.M.H. (1982)


 

JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

Cargo — NETFLIX FILM (2017)
Bridge to Terabithia (2007)
Small Town Crime (2017)
The Survivor’s Guide to Prison (2018)

 

AMAZON PRIME

Beatriz at Dinner (2017)
The Black Stallion (1979)
Death at a Funeral (2007)

 

FILMSTRUCK

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

 

HULU

Beatriz at Dinner (2017)
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)


 

COMING THIS WEEK

NETFLIX

May 29
Coco (2017)

May 31
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017)

 

HULU

May 31
I, Tonya (2017)
Rain Man (1988)

 


Jacob Neff is a film enthusiast living east of Sacramento. In addition to his contributions as an admin of the Feelin’ Film Facebook group and website, he is an active participant in the Letterboxd community, where his film reviews can be found. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with his latest thoughts and shared content.

MOVIE REVIEW: Lu Over the Wall

LU OVER THE WALL (2018)

1 Hour and 52 Minutes (PG)

Lu Over the Wall is the newest animated feature from visionary anime director Masaaki Yuasa, and tells the story of a small fishing village that is impacted by the appearance of a mermaid who comes ashore to join a middle-school band. It’s a twist on the classic fairy tale The Little Mermaid and features elements that will remind viewers of other films, too – specifically Miyazaki’s Ponyo, Best Picture winner The Shape of Water, and the under-seen musical hit Sing Street. Yes, it’s a little bit insane. But while these references seem similar on the surface, Yuasa’s film forges its own path and becomes some entirely unique.

The biggest thing that sets Yuasa apart from other anime giants like Miyazaki, Shinkai, and Takahata is the animation style. Visually striking and lavishly colorful in the present, it melts into an older style of animation when characters recall the past. The animation is also very busy and moves fast. At times it can be so frantic that it’s hard to follow and feels like you’re staring into a rapidly spinning kaleidoscope. Always, though, it provokes a sense of joy and wonder. Full of character designs like you’ve never seen before (mer-dogs!), if it doesn’t give you a headache the art style will most certainly captivate you and hold your attention.

As for the story, Lu’s friendship with Kai and his middle-school rock band Siren is at the center of the narrative. In this world, mermaids are attracted to music. Naturally, not everyone in the village likes mermaids. While some want to use their existence for profit in the tourist industry, others want to kill them all, and a select religious few wish to live in harmony alongside them. The conflict arises out of these differing opinions, but relational issues exists between Lu and her bandmates as well. This is where the heart of the film lies and the way it tackles feelings of depression, friendship, love, and chasing dreams is beautifully woven into this fantastical tale. That being said, for the most part it keeps things light, but there are elements of the plot that deal with some tougher emotions. In trying to juggle quite a few sideplots the film does seem to get away from Yuasa and perhaps go on a bit long.

VERDICT

Lu Over the Wall is a great reminder of why we watch movies. Yuasa is a director willing to take chances and it is exciting to participate in a cinematic experience like that. This is a beautiful film, overflowing with cuteness, and filled with solid positive messages. It is also a musical that will have you humming along and tapping your feet whether you fully follow the plot or not. Unforgettable animation is rare, but Lu Over the Wall is just that and therefore is a must-see experience.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Minisode 041: Grave of the Fireflies/Mary and the Witch’s Flower

In this special minisode, we kick-off Patrick’s “Summer of Anime” movie challenge by confronting the late Isao Takahata’s masterpiece, Grave of the Fireflies. But to lighten things up, we also have a short and entirely spoiler-free review of the first feature film from Studio Ponoc, Mary and the Witch’s Flower. 

Mary and the Witch’s Flower Spoiler-Free Review – 0:03:53

Grave of the Fireflies Review – 0:15:27


Contact


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Download this Episode 


Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards:

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Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

MOVIE REVIEW: Isle of Dogs

ISLE OF DOGS (2018)

GOING IN

Wes Anderson is known for his colorful, whimsical style of filmmaking, which has earned him legions of devoted fans. His films are almost always beautiful and can be seen as period pieces, since none of them have ever taken place in the present. Thus far, I’ve only found one of his films to be spectacular, and that is Fantastic Mr. Fox. I do feel that should I revisit his films, I might discover myself enjoying them more because my tastes have changed quite a bit in the past few years and I now highly value the kind of technical precision Anderson employs. What I know about Isle of Dogs: it has unique, gorgeous stop-motion animation, is set in a dystopian sci-fi future, has talking dogs, and revolves around a boy trying to find his lost pet. Consider me highly intrigued.

1 Hour and 41 Minutes Later.

COMING OUT

“Who are we? And who do we want to be?”

These questions, posed by a dog, to other dogs, are the kind of existential nuggets slid into most Anderson films. Here, there is something particularly powerful about them coming from an animated talking pet, as it really drives home the awareness these dogs exhibit throughout the film. Never does Anderson allow us to lose perspective – a dog is an animal and they act accordingly – but this additional layer of thoughtfulness gives them profound human depth, making it all the easier to emotionally resonate with how they feel. It also encourages us to ask the same of ourselves…

At its heart, Isle of Dogs in an adventure story. The film opens with historical background on the Japanese Kobayashi Dynasty (cat lovers) and tells of how dogs once were nearly wiped from the earth, overtaken by cats, but saved by a young samurai boy. Time passes and dogs become the loving pets we know of today, but then mysterious illnesses such as the Dog Flu and Snout Fever begin to appear and spread rapidly amongst the canine population in Megasaki City. Mayor Kobayashi (Kunchi Nomura) decrees that all dogs will be banished to Trash Island in an effort to supposedly keep the city healthy, but of course the feline-loving empire has other reasons as well.

The first dog to be banished is the guard dog Spots (Liev Schreiber), who was assigned to protect Mayor Kobayashi’s young nephew, Atari (Koyu Rankin). This sets in motion the primary story events, which revolve around Atari venturing to Trash Island to find his beloved dog, and instead coming across a pack led by Chief (Bryan Cranston), that also includes Rex (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and King (Bob Balaban). As this adventure progresses, Atari and the pack begin to bond, and much is explored about the relationship between man and man’s best friend. Atari never speaks English (and there are no subtitles), but it’s always perfectly clear what he is trying to say. Meanwhile the dogs speak in typical Wes Anderson style, with a dry wit about them, providing most of the movie’s adorable humor. Anderson’s minimalist screenplay really allows the incredible animation and fantastic score to be equally provocative, too. Characters eyes fill with tears on multiple occasions and the sight of it alone is enough to send most viewers reaching for the Kleenex. It’s unsurprising, of course, seeing as how Anderson is known for such detailed work, but at the same time the animation is so mesmerizing that it almost becomes entrancing. There is a style and uniqueness here that not only shows great skill, but really elevates the emotion of the story.

This coming-of-age tale for both boy and dog is also chock full of subtle political and social issues. In a sense the Mayor is deporting an entire race that he seems to hate for no real reason at all, other than he prefers another one. Most of these issues are brought up by Duke in the form of him telling the gang about rumors he’s heard, so while they are effective and can get adults thinking, they’re also woven seamlessly into the narrative in a humorous way. There’s also Tracy (Greta Gerwig), a foreign exchange student who believes a major conspiracy is afoot and is determined to find the truth about Mayor Kobayashi’s actions. Her dedicated efforts may be played for laughs, but she serves as a great character example of what it’s like when someone tries to fight the establishment and challenge what they consider to be poor (or downright evil) leadership.

Isle of Dogs may look and sound like a fun adventure story for kids, but there is some death and there are more complex themes covered. The issues of identity touched on earlier, and how to handle changing responsibilities, are key parts of this story and may go over the head of younger viewers, but they likely will be so enamored with the sweetness of the relationship between the dogs and Atari that they’ll still enjoy it just fine. There are also broken family issues (sometimes between species), as is almost always the case with Wes Anderson films. So, for those who look deeper, Anderson has given plenty to chew on while watching and long afterward.

It’s also important to note the amazing score by Alexandre Desplat. Fresh off winning an Academy Award for his won in The Shape of Water, he once again proves to be a force. Anchored by a traditional Japanese drum-baseline, the music will have you tapping your fingers and whistling all the way home. When Anderson decided to set this story in Japan he smartly brought on writer Kunichi Nomura to help ensure he referenced the culture appropriately, and Desplat’s score seems to fall right in line.

VERDICT

Isle of Dogs is a richly imaginative film, highlighted by playfulness and emotional depth that anyone who owns a dog will easily connect with. It’s drenched in Anderson’s typical style, that is to say technically marvelous, and its brilliant marriage of sly humor, sincerity, and beautiful animation make this an adventure well worth embarking on. It also made this lifelong cat owner want a dog. Well played, Mr. Anderson.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 100.3: Toy Story 3

We conclude our 100th episode celebration of TOY STORY with the final (for now) film. Once again, we are moved by many of the deeper themes that Pixar so brilliantly weaves into this tale, and we consider whether there has been a better animated villain than Lots-O’ Huggin’ Bear. We also give recall two last memorable episodes and discuss both this series’ place in history and whether or not we want TOY STORY 4.

Toy Story 3 Review – 0:11:04

The Connecting Point – 0:57:33

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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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Episode 100.2: Toy Story 2

Part two of our TOY STORY Trilogy conversation was the most surprising, as we were reminded of the deep themes at work in this film. Our discussion centers around two big ideas: mortality and community. We also remember more of our favorite past episodes.

Toy Story 2 Review – 0:08:18

The Connecting Point – 0:47:50


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards:

or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!