Screening Room: ‘Isle of Dogs’

Featuring all the usual suspects (Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton) plus Bryan Cranston, a lot of dry canine humor, and truckloads of Japanese cultural references from taiko drumming to Akira Kurosawa flicks, Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is, well, the sum total of all those parts.

Isle of Dogs is playing now. My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

Looking at Wes Anderson’s career arc is like flipping through the passport of one of your better-traveled friends. There are his stories of neurotically creative New York (The Royal Tenenbaums) and emotionally stunted New England (Moonrise Kingdom). Then you have his further flung locations ranging from the tripped-out sun-stroked Mediterranean (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) to a romantic postcard India (The Darjeeling Limited) and the imagined semi-historical locales of wartime Mitteleuropa (The Grand Budapest Hotel) and storybook British Isles (Fantastic Mr. Fox). Now, with his densely-layered but somewhat stillborn quasi-apocalyptic canine adventure fantasy Isle of Dogs, Anderson has finally crossed the Pacific to Japan. It’s only a matter of time before he gets to Australia. His kangaroos will most likely be highly droll…

Here’s the trailer:

Weekend Reading: September 23, 2016

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Screening Room: ‘Ghostbusters’

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So, yes, there’s a new Ghostbusters movie. You may have heard about it.

My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

It’s bad enough when a classic film is sullied by a subpar remake. (Hint: anybody excited about the Antoine Fuqua The Magnificent Seven, be prepared for disappointment; at least the original, itself a Seven Samurai riff, had the good sense to relocate from Japan to Mexico and cut its own trail.) All those tens of millions of dollars spent, just to tarnish a good and enjoyable memory. Even more wasteful, though, is the hurling of good money and energy at revamping of a film that was, well, no classic. Like Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters

Here’s the trailer:

Rewind: Bill Murray’s Moonage Daydream in ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’

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As the first in an occasional set of posts that look to some great (or even not so great) films from years or even decades ago that are worth going back to revisit, let’s start off with a real gem: Wes Anderson’s Bowie dream of a Bill Murray acid trip, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

“Bill Murray’s Moonage Daydream in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” is at Medium:

Murray ambles through his performance as oceanographer Steve Zissou, whose longtime partner was just eaten by a rare species of shark (“which may or may not exist”) and is determined to set off on an expedition to find the shark and kill it. When asked what scientific purpose this would satisfy, Zissou gives an almost imperceptible shrug and says, “revenge”…

Here’s Seu Jorge in the film, covering Bowie’s “Life on Mars”:

Screening Room: ‘Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead’

'National Lampoon': Funny people (Magnolia)
‘Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon’: Funny people (Magnolia)

Natlamp73Remember magazines? National Lampoon was one of the best. Beyond serving as something of a thinking man’s Mad, it also fostered that upswell of talent coming out of the Chicago comedy improv scene in the 1970s and midwifed them to stardom at Saturday Night Live. Sure, that ultimately led to Coneheads the movie, but we can probably lay that more at Lorne Michaels’ feet.

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon is playing now in limited release; my review is at PopMatters:

People who only know National Lampoon as that odd possessive sitting atop posters for Animal House andVacation might be surprised by some details provided by Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon. They might not have realized the depth of talent the comedy magazine cultivated. Or they might be surprised learn this monthly publication had a circulation of one million. Or that Chevy Chase was once considered a comedy genius…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘The Monuments Men’

Matt Damon and George Clooney in 'The Monuments Men'
Matt Damon and George Clooney in ‘The Monuments Men’

monumentsmenposter1During the latter part of World War II, as the Allies were advancing across Western Europe, special detachments of experts known as the Monuments Men fanned out with lists and a mandate to keep their own soldiers from demolishing cultural artifacts and finding those works that the Nazis had tried to keep for themselves. George Clooney’s attempt at turning that sliver of history into a cool, guys-on-a-mission film sadly falls apart almost before the opening credits begin.

The Monuments Men is playing now. My review is at Short Ends & Leader:

The film assembles a dream assemble and then abandons them without a story to work from. Clooney’s lack of control over his material is evident from the beginning. Playing team leader Frank Stokes, Clooney gets his presidential assignment (a bungled, laughable scene with one of the more comical FDR impressions seen on film since Annie) and starts getting the band together. Chicago architect Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), art restorer James Granger (Matt Damon), sculptor Walter Garfield (John Goodman), and the just generally artsy Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban). (Later on, Hugh Bonneville and Jean Dujardin join the gang for some Continental color.) This should be basic stuff, a few character-establishing moments and team-building quips, plus the easy comedy of watching the academics struggle through basic training before their mission. But Clooney muffs almost everything from the start…

A couple of the actual Monuments Men with a stolen Rembrandt found in a German salt mine.
A couple of the actual Monuments Men with a stolen Rembrandt found in a German salt mine.

The trailer is here: