Film review: ‘ISLE OF DOGS’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Isle of Dogs sees idiosyncratic director Wes Anderson make another foray into the world of stop motion animation. As with any Wes Anderson film enjoyment relies on a viewer’s attitude to his typically droll humour. Those who delight in quirky characters making ‘oh so ironic’ comments in expressionless voices will be in Heaven here while others may be grinding their teeth. Few, however, could fail to be entranced by the film’s visually striking and highly inventive animation which looks like an elaborate picture book come to life.

Isle of Dogs is set in a fictionalised version of Japan roughly 20 years in the future where a dog-hating politician (Kunichi Nomura) has consigned canines to the foreboding Trash Island where ragged, starving and diseased dog packs fight each other for survival. When 12-year-old boy Atari (Koyu Rankin) – who remarkably for a 12-year-old knows how to fly a plane – crashes on the island while searching for his long-lost dog, Spots, the dog inmates learn of a sinister political conspiracy against them. Mobilising dog leader ‘Chief’ (Bryan Cranston), his canine buddies and student activist (Greta Gerwig) Atari begins an uprising.

The film occasionally invokes some potent ideas such as the treatment of the poor, political corruption and activism. For the most part, though, politics and social commentary take a back seat to dry comedy as much of the film is composed of self-consciously ironic banter between the dogs. At times Anderson threatens to create a nauseating confection of quirkiness piled on top of quirkiness but as he so often does he manages to infuse the silliness with touching pathos. It also helps that Anderson has assembled a stellar voice cast that also includes Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, Ed Norton, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum and Scarlett Johansson.

The film has stirred controversy with its depiction of Japanese culture as some have accused it of cultural appropriation and stereotyping. While we should give a satirical fantasy film some latitude there is a disquieting sense of a culture foreign to white westerners being fetishised here. There’s also another cultural reference in this film that will prove extremely uncomfortable for Australian audiences. These unfortunate elements don’t by any means ruin Isle of Dogs but they will take many out of Anderson’s intricately conceived fantasy world for a large portion of the film.

Isle of Dogs probably won’t make fans of Wes Anderson detractors or even those in the middle but any viewer will be frequently mesmerised by this film’s technical achievements.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Animation/ comedy/ drama.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Wes Anderson.

Release date: 12th April 2018.

Running time: 101 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

Film review: THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

After the original Lego Movie became a box office behemoth there was no escaping a future filled with animated Lego figures spouting sarcastic quips. Now we have The Lego Batman Movie a cluttered, manic film stuffed with mostly superficial pop-cultural references that, while sporadically amusing, fails to live up to its predecessor.

Here, Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) is having a minor existential crisis and starting to lament his solitary status as a shadowy super-hero (cue piss-taking melancholic music). Despite his loneliness Batman still recoils at the idea of family but when a young orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) latches onto him, Batman suddenly finds himself with an unwanted nephew and sidekick, Robin. When his old nemesis the Joker (Zach Galafianakis) enacts a sinister plan to unleash a gaggle of supervillains on Gotham City, Batman has to call on Robin, Bat Girl (Rosario Dawson) and a surprisingly nimble Alfred the Butler (Ralph Fiennes) to help him save the day.

This film is essentially an affectionate piss-take on superhero culture and franchises like DC. The whole thing feels like a fanboy indulgence as if someone had taken a five minute homemade YouTube video sending up super heroes and stretched it to feature length. The humour is just a more benign version of what we see in a South Park or Family Guy with characters – Batman in particular – being oh so self-aware and drolly commenting on their lives. Fanboys might find it titillating but others will probably see the humour as annoyingly self-conscious, repetitive and unfunny.

The film pulls in characters from outside the DC universe such as Voldemort and Lord of the Rings’ Sauron which will delight some viewers but might have a few comic shop purists wagging their fingers. Unfortunately, the writers do little with these characters and fail to send them up with any wit or insight. Also, no matter how acerbic the film might try to be or how much it attempts to lampoon Hollywood clichés it still indulges one of the worst aspects of contemporary film-making, gratuitous product placement.

The Lego Batman Movie is also ridiculously manic and seems to have been made for people with zero attention span. This approach is ok in minimal bursts but repeated continuously across the film it’s rage-inducing.

This film will please a certain section of the cinema-going audience but will not generate the widespread affection and admiration afforded the original Lego Movie.

Nick’s rating: **1/2

Genre: Animated/ action/ super hero.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Chris McKay.

Release date: 30th Mar 2017.

Running time: 104 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


Film review: STORKS, from ‘Built For Speed’

Animated adventure Storks is one of the big school holiday releases. Despite its cute premise, sparkling animation, elaborate set pieces and a deluge of sight gags, this film may,however, leave the intended youngster audience confused and dissatisfied.

The film follows a familiar plot device in which a mythical gift giving service is depicted as a modern day manufacturing business. This time it’s not Santa’s workshop or the Easter Bunny’s egg factory but a slightly disturbing baby making factory from which storks deliver youngsters to parents. Or at least they used to. The storks have opted out of the baby distribution game and instead turned their factory into a warehouse for an online retail company called The Corner Store. The baby producing machinery (so to speak) lays dormant until bungling human employee Tulip (Katie Crown) mistakenly starts it up again creating a youngster requested in a letter from an only child. To hide her mistake before the corporate head kicking stork Hunter (Kelsey Grammer) finds out, Tulip and a conscientious stork named Junior (Andy Samberg) must desperately try to deliver the baby.

The film’s writer and director Nicholas Stoller has a questionable resume with Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising and the awful Zoolander No.2 among his credits. Both those films had rambling non-sensical plots and while this film is definitely an improvement, it also suffers a lack of coherence as characters stumble from one perilous situation to another. Not only is the story jumbled but it lacks the layered intrigue of a great animated movie like Zootopia.

The film’s biggest problem, though, is that it doesn’t have memorable characters. Tulip and Junior are quirky and likeable but there’s nothing remarkable or especially endearing about them. Similarly, a supporting voice cast of big names like Jennifer Aniston don’t impress themselves on our memory. This, however, is due more to script limitations than their performances.

Like just about all modern day animated films the computer graphics in Storks are astonishingly realistic and detailed but that doesn’t account for a mediocre story. Also, the film suffers that curse of the modern animation feature: loud, manic, headache-inducing sight gags.

Storks is by no means a bad film but it pales in comparison to the great animated features of recent times like Wall E, Toy Story and Zootopia.

Nick’s rating: **1/2.

Genre: Animation/ adventure.

Classification: G.

Director(s): Nicholas Stoller.

Release date: 22nd Sept 2016.

Running time: 89 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.



Film review: FINDING DORY, from ‘Built For Speed’

The 2003 film Finding Nemo was a box office hit that mixed masterful animation and adorable characters to create an instant family favourite. Almost stealing the film from the title character was Nemo’s faithful and forgetful friend Dory who was voiced memorably by Ellen DeGeneres. Given that film’s success a sequel was inevitable and Disney Pixar has wisely focused on DeGeneres lovable Blue Tang Fish for Finding Dory.

The title is slightly misleading as no one’s actually searching for Dory in fact she is searching for her parents Charlie (Eugene Levy) and Jenny (Dianne Keaton) who she lost as a child when she was whisked away by a powerful current. Teaming up with old buddies Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) and with aid of a grumpy octopus Hank (Ed O’Neil), Dory goes in search of her long lost parents, a journey that takes her across the ocean to a Californian marine research facility.

The plot of these Dory/ Nemo films is of less importance than cute, quirky comic set pieces and adorable characters, all of which this film delivers. While lacking the first film’s sparkling originality, this sequel is just about as clever, inventive and fun. The film is really a series of wonderfully conceived set-pieces that draw on movie tropes and the distinctive characteristics of marine creatures.

Ellen is just as funny and endearing as she was in the first film but also adds a moving quality as Dory desperately struggles to piece together fragments of memories that might lead to her parents. Albert Brooks and Hayden Rolence do a terrific job voicing the neurotic Marlin and innocent Nemo respectively. As well as Hank the film introduces some wonderful new characters such as Destiny the near-sighted whale shark, Bailey the beluga whale and a couple of sea lions who talk like English geezers.

Finding Dory does repeat some of the gags and scenarios from the first film but there’s enough inspired new material to stave off any Dory fatigue. That said, the film does have a couple of lapses where it is unable to overcome the limitations of its thin plot.

Most of the film is very cute and kid-friendly and shows the ocean creatures to be suspiciously co-operative and humane although there is one sequence with a nasty beaky squid that might be a little intense for youngsters. Some viewers, however, might recoil at the idea of sea creatures living it up at a marine park and there were apparently script changes in the wake of the disturbing Killer Whale documentary Blackfish.

Finding Dory does not deliver the startling cinematic experience of Finding Nemo but it’s fun, endearing and as visually remarkable as any of the highly sophisticated animation films we’ve seen in recent years.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2.

Genre: Animated/ comedy.

Classification: G.

Director(s): Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane.

Release date: 23rd June 2016.

Running time: 97 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


Film review: ZOOTOPIA, from ‘Built For Speed’

Disney’s Zootopia is one of the best animated films of recent years. Other recent films in this genre have contained sparkling photo-realistic animation, a few clever gags and some endearing characters but Zootopia has all these qualities combined with a clever film noir-like detective plot and a variety of thoughtful and positive messages.

Zootopia is set in an imaginary world inhabited entirely by animals where predators and their former prey have learned to live in harmony. It’s in this type of world that a cute bunny rabbit like Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) can at least aspire to become a police officer even though she still has to battle the prejudice of those who think a small, innocent-looking creature like her can’t be an effective cop. Assigned to the sprawling capital city of Zootopia, Judy, who is the only rabbit amid lion, tiger and bear cops, is relegated to demeaning traffic duties. When she decides to take on a mysterious missing person case, Judy, with the aid of sneaky streetwise fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) discovers a criminal conspiracy that reaches the upper echelons of Zootopian political power.

Zootopia is bursting with terrific visual gags based around the various animals’ quirks, the site of cute bunny Judy taking on hippopotamuses and rhinos in combat and of a customer service sloth working in super-slow motion at the motor vehicles bureau are particularly amusing. The film also features some wonderful movie-related gags with its Godfather parody a highlight.

Stars Goodwin and Bateman do superb voice work infusing their characters with pathos and humour. The film also features fine vocal contributions from Idris Elba, J K Simmons and Tommy Chong.

Like many recent animated features, much of the film is composed of hyper-kinetic visual gags but thankfully directors Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush know when to pull in the reins and let the surprisingly nuanced story shine through.

The film’s writers, who include Howard and Bush, also aren’t afraid to lace the story with topical issues. The world of Zootopia itself is held up as a model of social tolerance (prejudice against bunny rabbit cops aside) that is being jeopardised by selfish political manipulation. Also, in its portrayal of Judy’s battle for acceptance, the film delivers an effective message about stereotyping, labelling and the importance of female empowerment.

Zootopia also features animation as strikingly realistic and fluid as just about anything we’ve seen in the last few years.

Cute without being irritating, energetic without being manic or headache-inducing, clever and politically savvy without alienating the kids, Zootopia is one of the year’s most refreshing cinematic surprises.

Nick’s rating: ****.

Genre: Animated comedy.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush.

Release date: 17th March 2016.

Running time: 108 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.



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