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.