Tag Archives: Edward Norton

Who’s a Good Dog?

Isle of Dogs

by Hope Madden

First note in my Isle of Dogs screening notebook: God damn it, I want a dog.

Second note: Wait, Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton are in another film that appropriates Asian culture? Come on!

And that about sums up the conflicting emotions Wes Anderson generates with his latest stop-motion wonder.

Isle of Dogs is Anderson’s second animated effort, coming nearly a decade after another tactile amazement, 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. A millennia-long feud between the Kobayashis of Megasaki and dogs comes to a head when corrupt Mayor Kobayashi uses a dog flu outbreak to whip up anti-canine sentiment and banish all dogs to Trash Island.

But his orphaned ward Atari (Koyu Rankin) steals a miniature prop plane and crash lands on Trash Island looking for his beloved Spots (Liev Schreiber).

The little pilot is aided in his quest by a scruffy pack including Rex (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), gossipy Duke (Jeff Goldblum, a riot), King (Bob Balaban), and reluctant helper/lifelong stray, Chief (Bryan Cranston).

Other voice talent as concerned canines: Johansson, Swinton, F. Murray Abraham and Harvey Keitel.

Explained via onscreen script in typically Anderson fashion, dog barks have been translated into English and Japanese remains Japanese unless there’s an electronic, professional or exchange student translator handy. The choice shifts the film’s focus to the dogs (in much the way Peanuts shows remained focused on children by having adults speak in squawks). It also means that moviegoers who speak Japanese are afforded an enviably richer experience.

But for a large number of American audiences, it means that Japanese characters are sidelined and the only human we can understand is the white foreign exchange student, Tracy (Greta Gerwig). From Ohio, no less.

Between an affectionate if uncomfortably disrespectful representation of Japanese culture and Gerwig’s white savior role, Anderson’s privilege is tough to look past here, even with the scruffy and lovable cast.

The animation is beyond spectacular, with deep backdrops and meticulously crafted characters. Atari’s little teeth killed me. The voice talent is impeccable and the story itself a joy, toying with our dictatorial nature, the need to rebel and to submit, and how entirely awesome dogs are.

Set to an affecting taiko drum score with odes to anime, Ishiro Honda, Akira Kurosawa and every other Japanese movie Anderson watched as a kid, the film is clearly an homage to so much of what he loves. His skill remains uniquely his own and nearly unparalleled in modern film.

And Isle of Dogs is a touching, flawlessly crafted animated dream. That probably should have been set in America.

Yes, It’s a Weiner

Sausage Party

by Christie Robb

I was expecting to hate this movie. At worst I was anticipating a series of increasingly forced dick jokes and at best a munchie-induced fever dream. Instead, I gotta say, Sausage Party stands up with the South Park movie as a pretty offensively entertaining animated movie for adults.

The film is set in a Shopwell supermarket where every morning the products sing about their desire be chosen by “the gods”—those big things wheeling the carts—and travel to the Great Beyond (via a song composed by Alan Menken—the guy who co-created the songs from The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin).

Little do the foodstuffs know what terrors await them on the other side of the pneumatic doors. It’s not nirvana. The Gods fucking eat you.

As the Fourth of July approaches, Frank—a hot dog voiced by Seth Rogan—eagerly anticipates hooking up with his honey bun (Kristen Wiig) in the Great Beyond. But after they are chosen, they and a bunch of other products are separated from their packaging and fall to the supermarket floor.

Forced to traverse the enormous grocery, the fellowship has to navigate the aisles to get back to their packages, interacting with their fellow foodstuffs in various ethnic-food aisles, partying in the liquor aisle, and generally trying to evade the villain—a vampiric and increasingly unhinged literal douche.

The movie certainly employs a fair amount of wiener-based humor and a variety of food-centric ethnic stereotypes (for example, the sauerkraut jars are a bunch of fascists bent on exterminating “the juice”, the bagel’s voice is a Woody Allen impression, and a Peter Pan “Indian”-style pipe-smoking bottle of firewater dispenses wisdom), but the movie turns to a surprising exploration of faith vs. skepticism and the extent to which religious belief fosters divisions, hostility, and repressed sexuality.

Although the movie manages to provide enough offense to go around, the majority of the jokes are actually quite funny. The cast is certainly strong. Rogan and Wiig are joined by Nick Kroll, Salma Hayek, Michael Cera, James Franco, Bill Hader, Danny McBride, Edward Norton, Craig Robinson, David Krumholtz, and Paul Rudd, and the sex-positive food porn scene exceeded my expectations of what was bound to happen once the wiener and the bun finally got together.

Seeing Sausage Party ain’t a bad way to pass the time. But, for the love of God, please don’t take your kids.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

Look! Up in the Air!

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

by Hope Madden

You’ve heard the buzz. It’s loud and merited. The sharp and beguiling Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) sees a brilliant director and a magnificent cast at the height of their creative powers.

Playful and dark, the film follows a washed up Hollywood actor best known for a superhero franchise (an Oscar bound Michael Keaton, who certainly resembles that description). Struggling to regain relevance, he writes, directs and stars in a Broadway play. Meta from the word go, Birdman’s incisive exploration of the entertainment industry and the compulsion to perform couldn’t be more spot-on or more imaginative.

Director/co-writer Alejandro González Inárritu and his fluid, stalking camera ask a great deal from this ensemble as together they dissect fame – its proof and its power – in the digital age. From first to last, they are up to the task and then some.

They clearly relish a script that has such an insider’s perspective, skewering the self-absorption, insecurity and need for attention that fill the business. The performers embody these weaknesses and still create a tenderness for their characters. The comedy isn’t mean, though it is dark and edgy.

Edward Norton is hilarious in a bit of a self-parody as the true talent who pushes boundaries and strives for honesty – on the stage, anyway. He’s hardly alone. The entire ensemble – Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Lindsay Duncan and Amy Ryan – impresses.

Each has his or her own story, conflict, world, and Inárritu allows that to enrich the world he creates, but it’s all in support of Keaton in the finest turn of his often underappreciated catalog of performances.

He never falls back on the ticks and gimmicks that mark most of his comedic turns – quirks that made efforts like Beetlejuice so enjoyable. This performance is volcanic and restrained, pitiful and triumphant. His desperation is palpable and his madness is glorious. That Keaton can hit these disparate levels sometimes simultaneously inspires awe. Keaton has long been a unique talent, and while this role seems almost awkwardly custom made for the former Batman, the performance still could not have been less expected.

Inárritu, master of beautiful tragedy (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful), may be in impish humor with this effort, but Birdman is as dark and poetic as anything he’s created. Impeccably written, hauntingly filmed and superbly performed, Birdman is the first real contender Boyhood has faced for the best film of 2014.

Verdict-4-5-Stars