Isle of Dogs (2018)

Isle of Dogs

Young Atari (Koyu Rankin) travels to the Isle of Dogs in search of Spots.

There are very few filmmakers these days I can think of whose minds I would like to explore rather than Wes Anderson. Though I have yet to see all of his films, the ones I have seen are as fresh, insightful, original, joyful, and thought-provoking as any I have seen. Isle of Dogs is no exception.

Set in Japan, we see that Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) has sent all dogs (domesticated or not) to a lone Isle in response to a dog flu epidemic. It is also due to the fact that he has an ancient hatred of canines. Not so his nephew Atari (Koyu Rankin), who is Kobayashi’s only heir (Atari’s parents had died in a train crash). He is assigned a dog that he is told not to fall in love with (not even pet). The dog is Spots (Liev Schreiber), who is the first dog sent to the Isle. Atari steals a plane and flies in search of his dog.

While there, he encounters a group of other dogs. There is King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray, Anderson’s Muse), and Rex (Edward Norton). Though they like to have some form of democracy in the vote, the stand alone leader is Chief (Bryan Cranston), whose head is as hard as his heart.

As befitting a Wes Anderson flick, Isle of Dogs supports a strong cast of characters played by a big cast of talented people. It is dumb of me to list all of them; not just because of how many, but because it is fun to find out for yourselves. Still, I can at least name a few you may hear, such as Greta Gerwig, Harvey Keitel, Frances McDormand, Courtney B. Vance (This is Us), and even Yoko Ono.

Parents, I am still up in the air as to whether or not I agree with the PG-13 rating. There is no sexual content (other than talk of mating), and a few swear words that the local middle schooler has probably heard on a daily basis. The rating is mainly due to a few violent scenes (which I admit caught me off guard). If your kids have seen Anderson’s 2009 film Fantastic Mr. Fox (which I highly recommend), they are fine seeing this film.

Come to think of it, what I like the most about all of Anderson’s films is how caught off guard they leave me. That is an essential feeling for any great movie, and while Isle of Dogs is not perfect (it does seem to run on long at times), that was the feeling I had throughout.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther

The Black Panther sticks another landing for Marvel

Perhaps it is late for me to say, but Marvel Studios is starting to mirror that of Pixar, in that it is hard for them to have a flop financially or critically (it helps when you partner with Disney). A decade after the universe was launched with Iron Man, Marvel Studios is still going strong, and now delivers one of their very best in Black Panther.

Introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther takes place just after those events, where T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is being crowned King of Wakanda. Wakanda is a country steeped in poverty, but only in the eyes of the outside world. We learn it is truly flourishing with technology that is beyond anything we have yet seen in a Marvel movie (or any other). At first, I was afraid it would be too much like Asgard (the home world of Thor), but Wakanda still manages to stand out as its own environment.

Before he can take his place as king, T’Challa/Black Panther must stop Ulysses Klau (the always reliable Andy Serkis) from stealing Vibranium (the key substance to Wakanda and its economy, not to mention weapons and armor). Helping him is Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who manages to make a name for himself along the best of Marvel’s baddies.

What makes Black Panther so wonderful is the same formula that makes nearly all other Marvel films great as well. The actors take the roles seriously, but are still managing to have a lot of fun (especially Andy Serkis). Director Ryan Coogler (who also directed Jordan in Creed and Fruitvale Station) never has moments (well, maybe one or two) that drag on. We are enticed from the word go.

It also helps that, despite lack of screen time, every actor is giving all they got to the roles they play. Such actors include (but are not limited to) Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead‘s Michonne), Daniel Kaluuya (recent Oscar nominee for Get Out), Angela Bassett, and Sterling K. Brown (This is Us). When you see them on-screen, you know talent is erupting.

Parents, this is another Marvel movie, so if your kids have seen at least one (I don’t know many kids who haven’t), they are fine here. There is some swearing and violence, but no sexual content or nudity (despite some female characters wearing some revealing clothing, but nothing bad).

Is Black Panther the best Marvel movie? The vote is still out, but it is definitely in the running. It says a lot about an action/adventure movie when the action free scenes are as engrossing as the action scenes are (which are superb).

It is clear that 2018 now has its first great movie. And what a movie.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars ****1/2