Tag Archives: Wes Anderson

For Buffalo.com: ‘Isle of Dogs’ is the month’s must-see

Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs.” (Fox Searchlight)

Well, my second Buffalo.com column looks to be my last, for a variety of reasons. But more good things are coming soon. In the meantime, check out my thoughts on “Isle of Dogs” and some other recent releases.

This month’s most hottest release has been preceded by months of breathless fan anticipation. The cast is as star-heavy as any film in recent memory, and the storyline boldly original. I’m of course talking about Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs.” Wait, did you think I meant “Avengers: Infinity War”? That’s a biggie, too, but “Isle” is the real must-see.

Must-see of the month: “Isle of Dogs”

Wee film fans might not recognize Wes Anderson’s name. But they should be familiar with “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” the idiosyncratic “Royal Tenenbaums” and “Moonrise Kingdom” director’s 2009 stop-motion animated Roald Dahl adaptation. “Mr. Fox” has proven to be something of a modern kids’ film classic, and holds equal appeal for Anderson-ites.

The director’s latest animated film, “Isle of Dogs,” was released in Buffalo on April 13. Unlike “Mr. Fox,” however, “Isle” is not for kids. It is dark, violent, full of subtitles, and altogether too thematically complex for pre-teens.

But it’s also bloody brilliant, and teenage and adult cinephiles will be spellbound. It has the stunning look of Anderson’s “Mr. Fox,” the staggering attention to visual detail that defines “Tenenbaums” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and the warmth and humor of “Rushmore.”

“Isle of Dogs” is set in a near-future Japan in which dogs have been banished to a trash-filled island following a widespread outbreak of illness. A 12-year-old boy, the ward of an evil political leader, flies to the island in search of his beloved dog. There, he meets some of the island’s four-legged denizens, a ragtag group voiced by the likes of Bryan Cranston, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, and Scarlett Johansson.

The story may appear sleight at first glance, yet “Isle” is, in fact, Anderson’s most fiercely political work to date. There is much to discuss post-viewing, from the political and animal cruelty elements to whether the film qualifies as problematic cultural appropriation. However one feels about the latter issue, there is no doubt “Isle of Dogs” is another successful film from one of our most consistent writer-directors.

As for “Avengers,” well, you know what you’re getting, and that should be plenty. The gargantuan team-up of Black Panther, the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and assorted hangers-on might feature the most gobsmackingly star-heavy cast in film history.

Is it appropriate for kids? That likely depends on the youngster’s experience with the Marvel cinematic universe. “Infinity War” is expected to be a darker entry, and it’s also more than two and a half hours long. Still, holding off young fans won’t be easy…

Kids’ pick (digital/DVD/Blu-ray): “Mary and The Witch’s Flower”

The animated films of Japan’s Studio Ghibli cannot be recommended highly enough, and while the releases are generally darker than, say, a Disney film, they’re also positively enchanting. Kids of any age will find much to love in Ghibli efforts like “Spirited Away” and “Ponyo.”

The studio’s latest U.S. release, “Mary and the Witch’s Flower,” is another gem. This story of a young girl who discovers a flower granting her magical powers does not quite hit the highs of Ghibli’s finest. But the animation is gorgeous, the story inventive, and the dubbed voices — the subtitled version is preferable, but the kids likely need dubbing — are quite good. The cast includes Kate Winslet and Jim Broadbent.

“Mary” will be released on digital, DVD and Blu-ray on May 1. If you missed the film during its run at the North Park Theatre in February, it’s time to catch up.

Note also that the recent kid hit “Peter Rabbit” arrives on digital on April 20, with DVD and Blu-ray to follow on May 1. My advice? Wait on the rather obnoxious “Peter,” and give “Mary” a try.

Parents’ picks (digital/DVD/Blu-ray): “Phantom Thread” and “Molly’s Game”

If you are stuck renting “Peter Rabbit,” I recommend rewarding yourself with Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread,” the best film of 2017 and certainly the year’s most delightfully warped love story. If the final role for Daniel Day-Lewis is this temperamental 1950s London dressmaker, he’s going out on a high.

Also worth watching is “Molly’s Game.” While Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut came and went from theaters with minimal enthusiasm. That’a shame. The story of an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker maven is dramatically hit or miss, but its entertainment value is unquestioned. And Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba have rarely been better. Both “Phantom” and “Molly’s Game” arrived on April 10.

New to Hulu: “Loving Vincent”

Recent Oscar nominee “Loving Vincent” is an imperfect biopic of Vincent Van Gogh, but my goodness, does it look lovely. It is, quite famously, the first fully painted animated feature film ever made. That certainly makes it worth watching.

“Loving Vincent” arrives on Hulu on April 19.

New to Netflix: “Bobby Kennedy for President”

The Netflix original documentary “Bobby Kennedy for President” is one of the streaming service’s most high-profile nonfiction releases to date. Featuring oodles of archival footage and new interviews with the likes of Harry Belafonte and Rep. John Lewis, “Bobby Kennedy” looks to be tremendously moving.

It’s also a sensible intro for younger viewers to the Kennedy story, unlike Emilio Estevez’s wacky 2006 drama, “Bobby.” Dawn Porter’s documentary arrives on Netflix on April 27.


Recommended new books on filmmaking: My latest Film Stage feature


My latest Film Stage books piece features some new (and newish) reading options looking at Mad Max: Fury Road, Robert Altman, Grand Budapest Hotel, and more.

If your idea of beach reading is Nicholas Sparks or Danielle Steel, click away. (And reconsider your life choices.) However, if you plan to work on your tan while paging through weighty hardcover tomes about Robert Altman, Boyhood, and Grand Budapest Hotel, read on. We start—as one should—with George Miller’s fast-and-Furiosa masterpiece, Mad Max: Fury Road.

The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road by Abbie Bernstein (Titan Books)

Many thoughts run through one’s head while watching Fury Road—Could George Miller’s film make the rest of this summer’s blockbusters look any weaker in the knees? Can fans stop worrying about the chronology? Why wasn’t late Howard Stern Show fan favorite Eric the Actor cast as the little person who looks through the telescope?—but the most pressing is likely, “How did they do that?!” The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road has some answers. From storyboards and sketches to insightful production photos, the book is an extravaganza of ugly-beautiful details. Some of it is haunting, including a still of a young “War Boy” in the making gazing in the distance and an extreme close-up of a disturbingly skeevy Nicholas Hoult. Some is surprising, including the concept that the “Wives’ quarters” are “filled with the world’s last remaining books.” All of it, without question, makes a rich film seem even richer. Abbie Bernstein’s book is a brisk, fascinating read, and a must-have for the Rockatansky completist.

The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel by Matt Zoller Seitz (Abrams)

Matt Zoller Seitz’s dazzling, marvelously designed 2013 book The Wes Anderson Collection was one of the finest film-related texts of recent years, but had one failing: Timing meant that it could not include 2014’s Grand Budapest Hotel. That problem is now solved. The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel is a glorious companion, featuring more than 250 pages of interviews (with Anderson, Ralph Fiennes, Robert Yeoman, and others), essays (from the likes of David Bordwell and Ali Arikan), and photos, artwork, and much more. There are even excerpts from the works of Stefan Zweig. Above all else, there are illuminating thoughts like this one, from Zoller Seitz’s preface: “[W]ith each successive viewing of The Grand Budapest Hotel, a funny, really not­-so-funny thing happens: We realize that all these acts of self-reinvention and self-determination will nonetheless be trampled by the greedy and powerful, then ground up in the tank treads of history.”

Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt (Scribner)

Comedian-actor-Twitter superstar Patton Oswalt is a cinephile extraordinaire, and Silver Screen Fiend—subtitled Learning About Life From an Addiction to Film—is one of the finest chronicles of movie love and its life-altering impact in some time. As the memoir progresses, Oswalt’s stand-up career slowly flourishes, but it’s the film talk that makes Fiend so memorable. His Day the Clown Cried anecdote alone makes this an essential read, as done his heartbreak after seeing The Phantom Menace. Oswalt’s thoughts on a second viewing of the Star Wars prequel are wonderfully well-reasoned: “I guess I’m hoping for some sort of redemptive miracle, or that maybe I was wrong in my initial assessment. Also, there are parts of it I like. It’s sheer uncut nostalgia. … But it still sucks.”

Star Wars Epic Yarns: A New HopeThe Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi by Jack and Holman Wang (Chronicle Books)

The Star Wars Epic Yarns trio is summarized nicely on the back of each book: “Twelve handcrafted felt scenes + twelve words = one epic microsaga!” That about sums it up. While the twelve words are a bit banal for readers over, say, 6 (“trouble,” “hurt,” “boom!”), the scenes are stunningly detailed. Yoda, in particular, is adorable, and the key moments from A New HopeThe Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi are all here. My Star Wars-obsessed 4-year-old finds the three books delightful, and so do I.

Altman by Kathryn Reed Altman and Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan (Abrams)

The career of Robert Altman demanded a colorful, photo-heavy coffee-table book like Altman. This visual biography is co-authored by the late director’s widow, Kathryn Reed Altman, and film critic Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan. They have created a wildly entertaining summary of the man’s career and life, including scores of interviews (collaborators represented include Lily Tomlin, Jules Feiffer, and Julian Fellowes) and unique insight into the peaks and valleys of his life. The lows of the 1980s are especially interesting, but readers will be most moved by the photos and memories of his final days. The last photo of husband and wife, taken at home shortly before his passing in 2006, is gloriously loving. “I think it’s a very special picture,” Reed Altman writes. That’s an undeniable sentiment.

Boyhood: Twelve Years on Film by Matt Lankes (University of Texas Press)

Last year around this time, most film fans were anxiously awaiting the chance to see Richard Linklater’s Sundance smash, Boyhood. In a matter of weeks after opening, the 12-year-in-the-making backstory had become part of pop culture lore. While the film failed to pick up the Oscars many thought it should (besides Patricia Arquette’s much-deserved Best Supporting Actress statue), the passage of time has not diminished the boldness of Linklater’s approach. The gorgeous photographs by Matt Lankes in Boyhood: Twelve Years on Film make it even easier to appreciate the uniqueness of production. Here are the faces of Boyhood—all of them, from Mason and his mom and dad to the guy behind the counter at the liquor store. The behind-the-scenes pics, especially, demonstrate what an experience the film must have been to make, and remind us how thrillingly alive it felt to viewers.


Vacation Reads (Recent Film-centric Novels)

Missing Reels by Farran Smith Nehme (Overlook Press)

Self-Styled Siren blogger Farran Smith Nehme’s debut novel is an utter delight. Movie-loving lead character Ceinwen Reilly is a native of Yazoo City, Mississippi now living in 1980s New York. She finds herself on a quest to track down a long-lost silent film, and I find myself hoping that Emma Stone is cast in a big-screen adaptation of Reels.

West of Sunset by Stewart O’Nan (Viking)

It is hard not to be fascinated by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s years in Hollywood. In West if Sunset, the great Stewart O’Nan (Snow Angels) imagines the final years of the author’s life. The novel is wonderfully detailed and hugely moving. It’s a fine companion to Fitzgerald’s own The Love of Last Tycoon.

Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbo (Knopf)

Jo Nesbo is no stranger to Hollywood—see Headhunters, and, hopefully, eventual adaptations of his Harry Hole novel The Snowman and the stand-alone novel The Son. (Channing Tatum is attached to the latter.) Blood on Snow, the compulsively readable story of a crime scene “fixer,” has Leonardo DiCaprio on board as producer and possibly star. Note to Leo: Blood is bloody good. Take the lead role, please.

The Revenant by Michael Punke (Picador)

Speaking of DiCaprio, the actor’s next film is The RevenantBirdman Oscar-winner Alejandro González Iñárritu’s adaptation of Michael Punke‘s 2003 novel. If the recently re-released book is any indication, DiCaprio has perhaps one of his most formidable performances yet in store. This tale of a 19th century a fur trapper on a quest for revenge is a captivating read. Buy it now, and ponder what Iñárritu and his stellar cast (which also includes Tom Hardyand Domhnall Gleeson) will bring to the table.


The great “Grand Budapest Hotel,” and the films of Wes Anderson

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I know it seemed like an endless wait, but Wes Anderson’s latest film, Grand Budapest Hotel, finally opens in Buffalo tomorrow, and the wait was worth it. I think this is one of the director’s best films, perhaps his LARGEST scale project to date: size, scope, vision. The performances, especially from Ralph Fiennes, are impeccable. And this is his freshest collection of characters in many years.

In fact, I believe Budapest is his best film since The Royal Tenenbaums. And that thought got me pondering all of his films, and how I would rank them. So without further ado, my ranking of the films of Wes Anderson.

1. Bottle Rocket

I am in the minority with this one, I know, but I believe Anderson’s debut film is hit most original, his most emotional, and his most gloriously fresh. There is a youthful spirit on display that is rarely captured onscreen — it FEELS young and naive, in the best sense. And I maintain Owen Wilson gave his finest performance to date as Dignan.

2. Rushmore

Anderson’s second film features his greatest character. No, not Max Fischer. Bill Murray’s Herman Blume. It also features his best soundtrack, his best opening, and his best ending. A perfect film, one that contains my favorite Anderson montage: the “Oh Yoko” sequence.

3. The Royal Tenenbaums

“I know you, asshole!” I could drop about 100 other classic lines, or refer to songs like “These Days” and “Need in the Hay.” But I’d rather just watch, and drink it all in again.

4. The Grand Budapest Hotel

People will love this film. In fact, they already do. I predict it will land a Best Picture nomination.

5. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

I will never forget seeing the trailer for Zissou, and being utterly gob-smacked, to the degree that a friend and I considered traveling to see the film before it opened in Buffalo. I still think it’s one of finest trailers ever made — all Murray magnificence, set to Bowie’s “Queen Bitch.” The film itself was more sour than I’d expected, and a bit too stylized, but still a success, to be sure.

6. The Darjeeling Limited

The forgotten Anderson film? Maybe. Great moments, great acting, yet it never quite gels. This is all relative; he has never made a bad film.

7. Moonrise Kingdom      

Overrated? Yes. Very good? Certainly.

8. Fantastic Mr. Fox        

Anderson’s weakest film, to be sure, but guess what? It’s still quite good. Of course. Criterion recently released Mr. Fox on Blu-ray, and it was a deserving reissue.

And now, to close things off, “Ooh La La.”