Isle of Dogs (Film Review) – Decent But Not Wes Anderson’s Greatest Achievement

Isle of Dogs is a stop motion animated film written and directed by Wes Anderson which stars Yoko Ono, Tilda Swinton, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel, Courtney B. Vance, Frances McDormand, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Koyu Rankin and Bryan Cranston. The film takes place in a near-future dystopian Japan and the story centres on a young boy called Atari (Koyu Rankin). Atari goes on a mission to find his dog after the entire species is banished to a trash island due to an illness outbreak.

My Expectations For Isle of Dogs

A lot of film fans are always craving for originality in the films they see and they should look no further than Wes Anderson when it comes to this wish. Without a doubt, Wes Anderson is one of the most creative forces in the film industry. Since the 1990s, he has provided us with extremely quirky, fresh stories in his films and Isle of Dogs looked no different. Yet, I was slightly concerned going into this film.

For one, Wes Anderson has ventured into stop motion animation before in the form of Fantastic Mr. Fox and I was not a huge fan of that film. I was worried that Isle of Dogs would be a film in a similar sort of vein to Fantastic Mr. Fox and I wanted it to be completely different. Moreover, this film, while receiving mostly positive reviews, has received criticism in the way it represents Japanese culture and I did not want Isle of Dogs to come across as disrespectful.

Bryan Cranston as Chief in Isle of Dogs

Still, despite my small concerns, I was mostly optimistic going into Isle of Dogs due to how much I love some of Wes Anderson’s films such as Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Grand Budapest Hotel. The voice cast for Isle of Dogs was also very impressive which was another thing that excited me about seeing this film.

My Thoughts On Isle of Dogs

Overall, I thought Isle of Dogs was a decent film. I certainly preferred it to Fantastic Mr. Fox but it is nowhere near Wes Anderson’s best film. Still, before I talk about negative elements of the film, let me talk about what I liked about Isle of Dogs. For one, as was the case with Fantastic Mr. Fox and practically every stop motion animated film I have seen, the animation is great.

Stop motion animation is something which is a painstakingly long labour of love and I always respect filmmakers who use this type of animation in their creations. The quality of the animation in Isle of Dogs was evident to see. It is a beautiful film to look at. I also thought that the story in this film is quite touching at times, especially when it deals with the bond between dogs and humans. Certainly, I would contest that Isle of Dogs is a love letter to dogs. As a result, dog lovers are going to get something out of it.

Atari in Isle of Dogs

Bad Pacing

However, the story in Isle of Dogs is badly paced for a good chunk of its running time. Even for a film that is 90 minutes long, it is extremely slow which, as always, harms re-watchability. Isle of Dogs truly felt like it was a short film that was unnecessarily elongated so it could be a full-length feature film. Additionally, I was also disappointed that the film was not as funny as I wanted it to be and it was strikingly similar to Fantastic Mr. Fox in that regard.

This was a terrible shame as, most of the time, I find Wes Anderson’s live-action films to be hilarious. Yet, as I previously stated, I do prefer Isle of Dogs over Fantastic Mr. Fox. But, even though I generally liked this film, it is not something that I will rush to watch again.

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Ready Player One (Film Review) – Fun + Extremely Rewatchable

Ready Player One is a science fiction adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg. The film is based on the 2011 novel of the same name and stars Mark Rylance, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Ben Mendelsohn, Olivia Cooke, Tye Sheridan. The story takes place in 2045 where humanity uses virtual reality software called the OASIS to escape the harsh and dystopian reality of the real world.

The protagonist of Ready Player One is Wade Watts/Parzival (Tye Sheridan) who uncovers clues to a hidden game within the OASIS. The winner of this game will gain full ownership of the OASIS. Wade, with the help of his allies, tries to win the game before players working for a company run by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) can do so.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Ready Player One

I said this in my review of The Post and I will say it again now; Steven Spielberg is the greatest director of all-time. He has made amazing films in literally every genre of film there is and, in some ways, he was going back to his roots with Ready Player One. Indeed, Spielberg made a name for himself with adventure films such as the Indiana Jones trilogy and Jurassic Park. From the trailers, Ready Player One looked like a fun adventure film and the reviews for the film confirmed that it was quite entertaining and a throwback to Spielberg’s earlier work.

Tye Sheridan as Parzival in the OASIS in Ready Player One

I could not wait to see what was in store, especially when it came to finding all of the pop culture references and Easter eggs. Moreover, I had never read the novel on which this film is based upon so I had no preconceived notions about what the film had to do in order for it to equal or better the novel. I did not expect Ready Player One to rank amongst the best of Spielberg’s diverse filmography. Instead, all I wanted to watch was an entertaining film with high re-watchability.

My Thoughts on Ready Player One

By a long way, Ready Player One is the most entertaining, fun cinematic experience I have had in recent times. I was grinning from ear to ear for the majority of this film and it is absolutely one of my favourite films of 2018 so far. For me, re-watchability is important in the overall quality of a film and Ready Player One is eminently re-watchable. This is just for trying to find all the pop culture references alone. Truly, the film is littered with them and trying to find as many as I could kept me engaged throughout.

Still, while this was fun to do, it was not what fully propelled Ready Player One to a place where it was one of my favourite films of 2018. It was the story and the amount of world-building in the film which did this. Every time I was in the OASIS, I was hooked from a visual perspective. I loved how vibrant it was. It left me longing for a world where virtual reality technology like the OASIS exists but I guess I will have to be patient in that regard.

Tye Sheridan as Wade and Olivia Cooke as Samantha in Ready Player One

I also found the story in the real-world to be captivating due to how it contrasted to the OASIS. The OASIS was full of imagination and possibility whereas the real-world was, to be honest, quite depressing. I connected to the characters in both worlds and loved how the story interconnected between the two.

Pop Culture Commentary + The Cast of Ready Player One

As the film progressed, I also noticed how much Ready Player One was a commentary on pop culture and fandom. This was interesting to me given how Steven Spielberg has had such a big role in shaping both of these things as we know it today. It was a theme in Ready Player One that gave the film some meaning and depth, especially towards the end of the film where the cast really shined for me.

The entire ensemble cast gave very good performances. I liked Tye Sheridan in the lead role but my favourite performance was given by Mark Rylance. He played the character of James Halliday who created the OASIS and some of the stuff he was involved in during the film was very touching, particularly in the third act. He was a character I could really relate to and he was just one element of many in Ready Player One that I absolutely loved.

The Iron Giant in Ready Player One

If I am going to be a bit nit-picky, the only thing in Ready Player One that annoyed me was an incredibly cheesy line of dialogue in a scene between Wade and Samantha (Olivia Cooke) towards the end of the film. I understood why it was said but it was too cringe-worthy for my liking. Still, that is an incredibly minor issue in an otherwise fantastic film that you should absolutely see as soon as you can.

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Lady Bird (Film Review) – The Film That Should Have Won Best Picture

Lady Bird is a coming-of-age film written and directed by Greta Gerwig and stars Stephen McKinley Henderson, Lois Smith, Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Tracy Letts, Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan. The story of the film is set in Sacremento, Califorinia in the early 2000s and focuses on Christine (Saoirse Ronan), a high-school senior who goes by the name of ‘Lady Bird’. She clashes with her mother (Laurie Metcalf) about her future.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Lady Bird

On paper, everything about Lady Bird sounded terrific. For one, I love coming-of-age films. In recent years, films such as The Edge of Seventeen, Boyhood and The Perks of Being a Wallflower now rank amongst the best coming-of-age films I have ever seen. For whatever reason, it is a genre of film that I gravitate to and the fact that Lady Bird was nominated for five Oscars increased my expectations about the quality of the film.

As well as being nominated for Best Picture, both Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf were nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively. From this, I expected that the acting in Lady Bird would be brilliant. This went for the entire cast, not just from Ronan and Metcalf. Certainly, Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet are incredibly talented actors and impressed me with their work in Manchester by the Sea and Call Me By Your Name respectively. I hoped to see more of the same from these two in Lady Bird.

Saoirse Ronan as Lady Bird and Laurie Metcalf as Marion in Lady Bird

Before I saw Lady Bird, the only film nominated for Best Picture at the 2018 Oscars that made me feel like it completely deserved its nomination was The Post. I hoped that Lady Bird would impress me to the same degree that The Post did. I was expecting great things from this film.

My Thoughts on Lady Bird

I thought Lady Bird was absolutely terrific. Everything about this film felt authentic and genuine. Greta Gerwig partly based this film off her own experiences growing up in Sacramento and you can tell that this film came from the heart. While a coming-of-age film is going to have scenes and/or dialogue that are a bit cringe-worthy, nothing in Lady Bird ever felt forced or out of place. I had such a great time watching this film, especially when it came to the performances.

Saoirse Ronan was fantastic in the lead role and fully deserving of her nomination for Best Actress but I have to admit that, for me, Laurie Metcalf stole the entire film. She was so real and natural with her performance and, while I still have not seen Allison Janney’s performance in I, Tonya, I struggle to see how anything could eclipse what Laurie Metcalf did in Lady Bird.

Laurie Metcalf as Marion and Saoirse Ronan as Lady Bird in Lady Bird

The mother-daughter relationship was amazing and what Metcalf and Ronan brought to it made their relationship one of the strongest aspects of Lady Bird. I also thought that Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet were all very good in the film as well.

Funny and Sad Moments

Another strength of Lady Bird was the humour which was spot-on for a film like this. Certain lines of dialogue in the film and situations some of the characters found themselves in made for some really funny moments. Yet, at the same time, there were some incredibly sad moments too whether it was with Stephen McKinley Henderson’s character or with Lucas Hedges character. You need these types of moments in a coming-of-age film and I thought they were all executed very well.

I also have to say that the use of ‘Crash Into Me’ by Dave Matthews Band throughout the film was something that really pulled me into Lady Bird as it is one of my favourite songs. All of the things which I have mentioned above made me full in love with the film and, as I watched the credits roll, I could not help but feel that the ending, while abrupt, felt right and the character arc that Christine went through in Lady Bird came full circle.

Beanie Feldstein as Julie and Saoirse Ronan as Lady Bird in Lady Bird

My Final Thoughts on Lady Bird

Lady Bird and The Post were the two films nominated for Best Picture at the 2018 Oscars that were, for me, worthy nominees. Now that I think about it, I believe that Lady Bird should have won the award. I never thought either one would win Best Picture as The Shape of Water was the clear favourite. Still, I was rooting for an upset and I hope, in the years to come, that Lady Bird will be seen as one of the best coming-of-age films that has come out in recent times.

Clearly, I would highly recommend this film to anyone who loves coming-of-age films and wants to see exceptional acting as well as a superb directorial debut from Greta Gerwig. I hope to see more of her in the years to come when it comes to directing films.

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Black Panther (Film Review) – A Top 5 MCU Film

Black Panther is a superhero film directed by Ryan Coogler and it is the eighteenth instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Chadwick Boseman reprises his role as T’Challa/Black Panther alongside an ensemble cast that includes Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Winston Duke, Andy Serkis, Daniel Kaluuya, Sterling K. Brown, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o and Michael B. Jordan.

The story of Black Panther takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War and T’Challa returns to Wakanda as King after the death of his father. However, he finds his sovereignty challenged by Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). A conflict ensues between the two which has the capacity to have severe ramifications both in Wakanda and beyond.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Black Panther

Every time another MCU film is about to be released, I am pretty confident that it will be a good and entertaining as an absolute minimum. Black Panther was a different story. This film had a lot of potential to be amazing and one of the best MCU films to date. Everything I had seen from Black Panther looked unique and fresh. I was excited to see what was in store and, once the film was receiving universal critical acclaim, all it did was increase my expectations for Black Panther.

Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther/T'Challa in Black Panther

Another thing which filled me with a lot of hope that Black Panther would be something special was the directorial talent behind the film. Appointing Ryan Coogler as the director of the film was a great choice. His work on Fruitvale Station and Creed cemented him as being one of the most promising, up-and-coming directors working in the film industry today. He has had a great career so far and to think that he is only 31-years-old and has so many years ahead of him is exciting to say the least.

The cast for Black Panther just speaks for itself. Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis and Chadwick Boseman among other talented individuals should entice any film fan to see the film they are in. Everything was in the favour of Black Panther to be something that could transcend the superhero genre, especially with its social, racial and political themes which are extremely relevant in today’s climate. I wanted this film to be rich and have an abundance of depth. Moreover, I hoped Black Panther would be at high enough level of quality where it would be one of my favourite films in the MCU.

My Thoughts on Black Panther

Truly, I cannot remember the last time I was as emotionally invested in an MCU film as I was with Black Panther. Without a doubt, this film is in my Top 5 favourite MCU films and Ryan Coogler continues to impress me as a filmmaker with the incredible work he did in Black Panther.

Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger and Daniel Kaluuya as W'Kabi in Black Panther

A variety of reasons exist as to why I love Black Panther as much as I do. Let me start with the biggest positive of the film; Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger. For me, the biggest flaw of the MCU has been its inability to consistently produce compelling and/or sympathetic villains/antagonists.

In my mind, it is clear to see that the MCU struck gold with Killmonger. For me, he is one of the best MCU villains. This is because you identify with him due to his past struggles and how he wants to reveal Wakanda to the world and put an end to their isolationist tendencies. However, he goes about things in the wrong way and his methods would do more harm than good to the situation. Because of this, even though we know that he is the bad guy, we feel for KIllmonger throughout the film and it makes certain scenes towards the end of Black Panther that more of a gut punch.

He was the strongest aspect of the story in Black Panther and the story itself was very engaging and superb performances from the cast helped to bring it to life, particularly when it came to the actresses. For me, the women of Black Panther were huge standouts. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Shuri (Letitia Wright) were phenomenal and really pulled me into the film from an emotional standpoint, particularly in the third act.

Dora Milaje in Black Panther

Excellent World-Building + Timely Themes

Make no mistake, Chadwick Boseman was great as T’Challa/Black Panther. He was captivating in the lead role but the women around him, as well as the villain, elevated both him and the film. Moreover, an element of Black Panther such as the Dora Milaje, a team of special forces which Okoye was the leader of, helped to flesh out Wakanda.

Certainly, the amount of world-building was immensely impressive, especially as it was all done in one film. You see how vast and rich the lore and nation of Wakanda is and it pulls you into the film. Additionally, the story being told deals with some extremely relevant social, political and racial themes which also elevates your experience with the film. Undoubtedly, Black Panther is a timely film which has a lot to say beyond its superhero plot.

It is an important film to watch because of what is going on in the world nowadays which helps Black Panther transcend the superhero genre. Scenes in the film which proved how well it becomes more than just a superhero film include Killmonger’s conversation with his father, played by Sterling K. Brown, as well as his final scene with T’Challa. Both scenes were incredibly powerful and showcased the themes of the film in a great way.

Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger and Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther/T'Challa in Black Panther

Other Highlights of Black Panther

As you can see, I have been incredibly positive about Black Panther so far and that is not stopping now. The use of colour was brilliant, the score and its use of percussion was excellent and it fitted in well with the film. The humour in Black Panther, like every MCU film I have seen, was more hit than miss. This is especially the case whenever M’Baku (Winston Duke) or Shuri were involved.

The only criticism I would have of Black Panther is that the lighting for the action scenes could have been better so I could see what was going on more clearly than I could. Still, that is a small gripe in an otherwise amazing film which ranks amongst the best in the MCU. Moreover, it has made the wait for Avengers: Infinity War more unbearable than it has been and I cannot wait to return to Wakanda and these characters in that film.

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