SXSW review: ‘Isle of Dogs’ a treat but hounded by some real problems

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As a movie constructed of tiny moving parts, it’s fitting that “Isle of Dogs” resonates most warmly in its quiet, little moments. There’s the scene where a recently orphaned 12-year-old boy, laid up in traction in a hospital, meets his new guard dog, who licks his hand in silence. Or a later scene when the same boy gives a biscuit to a different dog, a wary stray who’s never tasted one before. The hound is overcome. So is the viewer.

The latest from film auteur (and University of Texas alum) Wes Anderson, “Isle of Dogs” closed out the 2018 South by Southwest Film Festival in its North American premiere to a packed house wearing complimentary “PRO-DOG” headbands. Set in the near future in the fictional Japanese metropolis of Megasaki City, the stop-motion-animated film tells a seemingly simple story at its heart: A boy sets out to find his lost dog, with the help of a pack of mangy mutts.

(From L-R): Edward Norton as “Rex,” Jeff Goldblum as “Duke,” Bill Murray as “Boss,” Bob Balaban as “King” and Bryan Cranston as “Chief” in “Isle of Dogs.” Contributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures

The boy, Atari Kobayashi (voiced by Koyu Rankin, whom one hopes has a best friend with the last name Bass), is the ward of the authoritarian Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura, also with a writing credit), who has exiled all dogs in the city to live on the dumps of Trash Island. The reason why is all explained in an ancient legend prologue. Best not to dwell on the motives too long, but suffice it to say that the Kobayashis are decidedly cat people.

Atari’s beloved guard dog, Spots (a stout-hearted Liev Schreiber), was the first pooch to get the boot. Six months after the mayor’s decree, more dogs have found themselves subsisting on scarce garbage for food on the island, and Atari arrives in a tiny prop plane for a hero’s quest. Guiding him are Rex (Edward Norton, such a delightful drip of a dog), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), King (Bob Balaban) and Chief (Bryan Cranston), that grizzled stray with a chip on his shoulder and nose for a fight.

RELATED: Bill Murray just recited a poem while wearing overalls and a bucket hat on Sixth Street, because SXSW

As you might guess for a movie about man’s best friend, “Isle of Dogs” stands up for loyalty in all its forms: between owners and pets, or between members of a pack, or of young idealists toward their cause. When the movie puts Atari and Chief together, it charms. Cranston imbues the jaded stray with a heart-rending pain through all those bared teeth, as he learns what the most simple kinds of affection feel like. The lack of subtitling of Atari’s Japanese dialogue is also a tidy device to put an English-language viewer in the dog’s, er, paws.

Speaking of Anderson, all the director’s trademarks are here, even in miniature form: the twee musical throwback (an instantly infectious “I Won’t Hurt You” by the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band), the impeccably curated tableaus, the eclectic cast of favorite players. If you’re going to go animated, why not stock up like winter is coming and beloved character actors are canned goods? Tilda Swinton’s turn as a prescient pug dubbed the Oracle is a gas, and she’s used with remarkable restraint. “Lady Bird” director Greta Gerwig gives a foreign exchange student/budding journalist/dog rights activist pleasing notes of Lisa Simpson and Leslie Knope. Heck, even Yoko Ono did some voice work in this thing.

RELATED: Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum and Wes Anderson walk into a theater. Everyone loses their minds.

Much like Anderson’s previous stop-motion film, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” the intricacies of the animation are exquisite. The canine characters glow with fur-bound life. The crying effects look so good that you can tell the production team got incredibly stoked and slotted them into the movie wherever they could. You will believe a man’s best friend can cry.

Back to the language barrier. To watch the movie, you’ve got to try to wrap your arms around the cultural politics of “Isle of Dogs,” which features dogs voiced by white actors in a Japanese world and human Japanese characters mostly voiced by Asian actors. Anderson goes to pretty laborious lengths to avoid subtitled dialogue, including translator characters (one is voiced by Frances McDormand). Questions arise: Why did Gerwig’s character need to be a foreign exchange student instead of a Japanese schoolkid, for example? Expressive line readings from Rankin and Nomura constantly made me wonder what the film is like to watch if you understand both English and Japanese. I also wondered if Anderson thought about such a person at any point from concept to post-production.

“Isle of Dogs” also doesn’t really spend much time thinking about female characters, whether human or canine. Female dogs are mostly absent: There’s Swinton’s bit-part; a show dog voiced by Scarlett Johansson who only exists to service an underdeveloped romance and also get in a really lazy “bitch” joke; and another pooch that’s literally just there to have puppies. Even Gerwig’s plucky agitator has her agency undercut by a crush on Atari that’s a little cute but mostly elicits a “yeah, sure, I guess?”  If ever there was a movie you could tell had an all-male writing team, this is the one.

Actor Jeff Goldblum arrived outside the Paramount Theatre for the Isle of Dogs red carpet premiere on Saturday, March 17. The film screening was part of the SXSW Film Festival. (Photo by Katherine Fan for Austin360.com/A-List)

PHOTOS: ‘Isle of Dogs’ premiere with Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Wes Anderson at SXSW 2018

The tone trends wicked in parts, including a trash furnace cliffhanger that’s left dangling too long for anyone who actually likes dogs. It would also be naive to not view “Isle of Dogs” through a Trump-era lens, what with its executive edicts and themes of exile, press suppression and disinformation, all in the name of power. Anderson also slips in a line about staged political protests that feels scorchingly pointed in 2018 (I heard titters in the theater) but also undercut the fantasy.

Anderson attempts a lot. When its story about dogs and kids goes small, “Isle of Dogs” does quite a few good tricks.

Grade: B

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber, Greta Gerwig, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban

“Isle of Dogs” hits theaters March 23.

Alamo Drafthouse hosting women-only ‘Wonder Woman’ screening

Amazon sisters, this one is for you. Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse announced a women-only screening of “Wonder Woman” at the downtown Ritz theater on June 6.

GAL GADOT as Diana in the action adventure “WONDER WOMAN,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

“The most iconic superheroine in comic book history finally has her own movie, and what better way to celebrate than with an all-female screening?” the screening announcement on the Drafthouse website reads. The one-night-only event is for “Women (and People Who Identify As Women) Only,” and that includes the theater staff. According to the Drafthouse, the venue staff, projectionist and culinary team for the screening will also all be women.

RELATED READ: Some Austin movie fans’ screams might be in the next ‘Star Wars’

Unfortunately, the screening is now sold out. But stay tuned, Themyscirans, in case the theater decides to lengthen its lasso for additional dates. According to a comment from the Drafthouse on Facebook, more Amazons’ nights out are on the way.

Roger Moore’s James Bond was more suave, less serious

 

Word has come down that Roger Moore, best known for his turn playing James Bond, has died at the age of 89.

My all-time favorite piece of writing about Moore isn’t actually about him; it’s about Bryan Ferry and his band Roxy Music.

Roger Moore as James Bond

In the “Spin Alternative Record Guide,” critic Rob Sheffield — then all of 28 or so, later to pen “Love is a Mixtape” and this year’s amazing “Dreaming the Beatles” (which isn’t just probably the best book ever about the Beatles, but one of the best books of 2017 in general) — wrote that Roxy Music was divided into two parts: the Sean Connery years and the Roger Moore years, meaning the first five albums (bleeding-edge art rock, a few with Brian Eno, beloved by hardcore) and then the final three, recorded after a band hiatus (slicker, more Romantic, all surface, total pop).

This is a brilliant characterization of both Ferry and Moore. For much in the way that later-period Roxy could write “Avalon” or “Oh Yeah,” it is impossible to see the rougher, realer Connery raising an eyebrow and delivering a one-liner the way Moore could, or in space, a la the admittedly terrible “Moonraker.”

(Bedding Grace Jones in the admittedly terrible “View to a Kill”? They probably both could have handled that one.)

And besides, for anyone between the ages of, say, 30 and 50, Moore was the guy they grew up with as Bond.

After playing bit parts in American film and TV, then doing time in the thriller series “The Saint” for 100 episodes (wherein he refined the style he would bring to his next role), Moore embodied 007 for seven films and about 2,000 (OK, 12) years.

Playing Bond as suave and corny, dashing and dopey, Moore traded in Connery’s hairy chest and weightlifter physique for a guy who flat-out refused to take himself so seriously (or maybe ever work out).

Because, man alive, if anyone deserved to be made fun of a bit, it was the character of James Bond.  This was Bond as a British Dean Martin (who himself played the spy Matt Helm) — Moore as Bond approached being a spy the way Martin approached acting, as the true player for real who truly did not give a [beep].

Moore’s Bond liked shooting people, making jokes and sleeping with any available lady, probably not in that order. Indeed, as Bond, Moore out-Martin’ed Martin-as-Helm, if that makes sense.

And say what you will about the scripts and Moore’s wry vibe, the stunts and chases in Moore’s Bond pictures, all pre-CGI, were uniformly terrific.

As far as the actual films, the best Moore Bond flick is probably, oh, let’s say “The Spy Who Loved Me,” with Barbara Bach as the Bond girl, that dope Lotus  and Richard Kiel as Jaws. (Which reminds me, Moore-era Bond had the best villains.)

I also remain fond of “The Man with the Golden Gun” (Christopher Lee killed it as the always-fun-to-say Scaramanga) and the extremely racially sketchy “Live and Let Die,” which is what happens when British people make a blaxploitation movie. Amazing theme song, though.

Rosie Carver as Gloria Hendry and Moore as Bond in “Live and Let Die.” They were kind of an awesome couple.

 

(That said, Moore’s diary about the making of “Live and Let Die’ is flat-out amazing.)

As for the others, well, “For Your Eyes Only” tried to get serious (the skiing stuff was cool), “Octopussy” was almost unforgivable trash, “Moonraker” is in spaaaace and “A View to a Kill,” while sporting one of the best Bond themes, is not good but featured Christoper Walken in a part that was supposed to be for David Bowie and Grace Jones, who is welcome in anything, anywhere, at any time.

Requiescat, Mr. Moore. You were a smooth operator. 

 

 

Matthew McConaughey, Alamo’s Tim League join forces for new movie

Two of Austin’s movie men have a new project together.

Tim League’s distribution company, Neon, and Vice have bought the U.S. rights to “Beach Bum,” a film to be written and directed by Harmony Korine (“Spring Breakers”) and starring Matthew McConaughey. The movie is scheduled to begin production this fall for a 2018 release, Deadline reports.

Matthew McConaughey introduces his new film “Gold” at the Austin premiere at the Alamo South Lamar on Jan. 12, 2017. Contributed by Rick Kern

League, founder of the Alamo Drafthouse, will be an executive producer on the film, described as “an irreverent comedy that follows the misadventures of Moondog (McConaughey), a rebellious and lovable rogue who lives life large.” Sounds about right for Austin’s spirit animal.

 

RELATED: Watch a young Matthew McConaughey in the world’s smallest jean shorts (you’re welcome)

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PHOTOS: Matthew McConaughey through the years

Three family movies to watch this summer

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul.” Not a reboot, but the cast of the first three Wimpy Kid movies have officially aged out of usefulness as wimpy kids, their siblings and their parents. Steve Zahn, we’ll never forget you. (May 19)

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul”

“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie.” The children’s book series moves to the big screen as an animated feature (that “first” really does seem like a slightly undignified request to the audience — “please make this a franchise!”). Stand-up comedian Kevin Hart and Thomas “Silicon Valley” Middleditch voice the kids who pull their comic book character (voiced by Ed Helms) into the real world. (June 2)

“Cars 3.” “Is Lightning McQueen dead?” was the questions thousands of parents had to hear from extremely upset little kids who made the mistake of watching the incredibly grim first trailer for this third film in the “Cars” franchise. The answer is probably not, but wow, that trailer was rough. (June 16)

Check out the full summer movie preview here.

 

 

Here’s your chance to watch the new “Baywatch” on a beach

Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron star in “Baywatch.” Contributed by Frank Masi/Paramount Pictures

The Alamo Drafthouse’s Birth.Movies.Death wants to help you get in the mood for summer with a “Baywatch on the Beach” movie party May 24.

The 6 p.m. event at Volente Beach Water Park in Leander celebrates the new movie version of “Baywatch” starring Dwayne Johnson and his pecs, as well as Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra and iconic red swimsuit-wearers Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff.

In addition to seeing the movie on opening night, partygoers can enjoy the water park and will get dinner, drinks and a shark-themed inner tube to take home. You can even show off your faux lifeguard skills in a slow-motion running competition.

Tickets are $59.50 and are available here.

 

Watch Matthew McConaughey fight Idris Elba in the trailer for ‘Dark Tower’

“The Dark Tower”

 

McConaughey IS the Man in Black. Idris Elba IS the Gunslinger. Stephen King IS the author of the source material “Dark Tower” series. Everyone hopes this DOES become a franchise.

Behold, the trailer for Danish director’s Nikolaj Arcel’s adaptation of “The Dark Tower” series by Stephen King.

“For thousands of generations the gunslingers were knights sworn to protect us from the coming of the dark,” Elba says.

Tom Taylor plays Jake Chambers, our POV character, a kid who starts dreaming of another world. He brings Roland Deschain aka “The Gunslinger” to our world, which is in mortal danger from the Man in Black, aka McConaughey’s Walter Padick.

The movie is slated for Aug. 4.

‘Silence of the Lambs’ director Jonathan Demme had special relationship with Austin

 

Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme has died.

The New York-native, ardent fan of Texas film and director of “The Silence of the Lambs” died from complications due to esophageal cancer and heart disease. He was 73.

BREAKING: Jonathan Demme dies at 73

A director with a voracious appetite for vibrant characters, crafty storytelling and a feel for exploitation (he was one of Roger Corman’s many cinematic offspring), Demme’s career was one of modern American cinema’s most eclectic.

He seemed to fear no genre. He could do star-studded social realism (the legal/AIDS drama “Philadelphia,” for which Tom Hanks won an Oscar), concert movies (Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense” remains the best concert film ever made, “Last Waltz” or no), delivered music-heavy screwball comedy (“Something Wild”) and could elevate lurid pulp into Oscar-winning art (hello, Clarice).

His most recent critical smash was the 2008 movie “Rachel Getting Married” starring Anne Hathaway. Directed in a naturalistic style, it reminded audiences that Demme was capable of showing new sides of himself after more than 40 years as a director.

Jonathan Demme, left, and Paul Thomas Anderson discuss filmmaking at the 2013 Austin Film Festival.

There wasn’t much Demme couldn’t do, or at least try. He was a vibrant documentarian — besides the still-stunning “Stop Making Sense,” Demme made three films focusing on Neil Young: — “Neil Young: Heart of Gold” (2006), “Neil Young Trunk Show” (2009) and “Neil Young Journeys” (2011). Other subjects included Jimmy Carter (“Man from Plains”), Haitian radio under oppressive regimes (“The Agronomist”) and his cousin Bobby (“Cousin Bobby”), a minister in Harlem. He also directed episodic television and a clutch of music videos.

Demme had a special relationship with Austin. In 1980, after Austin Chronicle/South by Southwest co-founder Louis Black showed Demme Austin’s vibrant arts scene, Demme put together a program of six short films from Austin and screened the set at the Collective for Living Cinema in New York, a cinematic postcard from Austin to the Big Apple. The set was finally released on DVD in 2015 as “Jonathan Demme presents Made in Texas.” He was a frequent guest at SXSW and the Austin Film Festival.

Actor Peter O’Toole’s archive lands at the Ransom Center

 

A studio photo of Elizabeth Taylor, Peter O’Toole, and Richard Burton (standing) on set of the 1964 film “Becket.” Photo courtesy of Harry Ransom Center.

 

The Harry Ransom Center has picked up the archive of no-kidding-legendary British actor Peter O’Toole (1932–2013).

O’Toole starred in such Academy Award-nominated classics as “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), “Becket” (1964), “The Lion in Winter” (1968) and “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” (1969). He finally picked up an honorary Oscar for a lifetime’s worth of awesome-ness in 2002.

O’Toole was also a distinguished stage actor who performed in the theater from the 1950s through 1999.

The archive contains theater and film scripts along with O’Toole’s writings, including drafts, notes and working material for his multi-volume memoir “Loitering with Intent.”

“It is with a respect for the past and an eye to the future that I recognize the importance of making my father’s archive accessible and preserving it for future generations,” said Kate O’Toole. “Thanks to the nature of film, my father’s work has already been immortalized. The Ransom Center now provides a world-class home for the private thoughts, conversations, notes and stories that illuminate such a long and distinguished career.”

The archive was acquired for $400,000, with private sources of support covering the cost, according to Jen Tisdale, director of public affairs for the Ransom Center.

O’Toole’s correspondence offers insight into his relationships  with a murderer’s row of 20th century screen talent including (deep breath) Marlon Brando, Michael Caine, John Gielgud, Peter Hall, Katharine Hepburn, Dustin Hoffman, Jeremy Irons, Spike Milligan, Paul Newman, Trevor Nunn, Laurence Olivier, Harold Pinter and Kevin Spacey, among many others.

The archive also includes plenty of photos, diaries and notebooks, theater and film programs and memorabilia, audio recordings of O’Toole rehearsing lines and reciting poetry, awards, and a selection of iconic props and costume pieces, including his sword from the National Theatre’s inaugural production of “Hamlet” directed by Olivier.

O’Toole’s career started as a student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from 1952 to 1954. He received accolades for his time with the Bristol Old Vic, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre before his turn in the title role of David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” made him a household name.

The O’Toole collection joins other archives of stage and screen performers including Stella Adler, Robert De Niro, Edith Evans, Anne Jackson, George Bernard Shaw and Eli Wallach. The Ransom Center also holds a collection of  materials from real-life Lawrence of Arabia T. E. Lawrence.

The archive will be accessible once processed and cataloged.

 

The definitive, ‘Tokyo Drift’-loving ‘Fast and Furious’ movie rankings

Are you ready? Spoilers below for old movies (and yes, the new one is in there.)

“The Fast and the Furious” (2001) — Yeah, it’s the first one, but it’s a also wonderfully street-level crime movie about street racers, hot cars and Vin Diesel becoming a legitimate movie star. No hackers, no weird government stuff, just cops ‘n’ robbers.

“The Fast and the Furious” is still the best

“Fast Five” (2011) – aka The One in Brazil Where an Enormous Bank Vault is Dragged Around Rio, the peak of the second half of the franchise.

“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” (2006) — Yeah, I said it. Lucas Black is no Paul Walker (the acting is pretty rough in general) but man alive, are the racing scenes great. Also introduced Han Lue (Sung Kang) aka Han Seoul-Oh (yes, really), whose death in this movie ended up being a sort of fixed point in the series’ continuity, placing the events of this movie after those of no. 6, making this series as baffling as the original “Planet of the Apes.” Nobody likes this one, I dig it.

“Fast & Furious” (2009) and “Fast & Furious 6” (2016) are essentially tied for me. The former is the one that brings the team of Torretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Connor back together and knocks off Letty Ortiz. No. 6 is the one that stone cold brings Letty back from the dead, soap-opera style.  Also, there is a tank.

“Furious 7” Look, this one is fine. It’s fine. It’s fun, there’s a nice (if slightly weird) send off for Paul Walker, who died as the film was being made, and there is a completely excellent building to building car jump.

“2 Fast 2 Furious” I can’t lie, this ranking is a game of inches. I even enjoyed this one. No Vin Diesel was a mistake, but the fact that there was even a third one speaks to the fact that, as dumb as it is, people actually saw it. Also, you are sleeping on “Tokyo Drift.”

And yes, the new one comes in dead last. Here is the full review.