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:

Screening Room: Submission

An adaptation of Francise Prose’s great 2000 novel Blue AngelSubmission is a satirical comedy about a writing professor (Stanley Tucci) who becomes more enamored than he should with the writing of one of his students (Addison Timlin).

Submission is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

The scenery that greets viewers at the start of Richard Levine’s Submission is that of pretty much every movie ever set on a college campus: fall colors, sun-dappled quad, stately brick buildings and all the bourgeois trappings of cosseted small-town intelligentsia. The narration running over the montage has more vinegar to it, as Professor Ted Swenson (Stanley Tucci) grumbles about being trapped in this “isolated and inbred” sanctuary of intellectual mediocrity. What follows is unfortunately more in keeping with the visuals then the dialogue…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘A Fantastic Woman’

The Oscar-nominated A Fantastic Woman, directed by Chile’s great Sebastian Lelio (Gloria), is playing now in limited release.

My review is at PopMatters:

The most romantic element of …  A Fantastic Woman comes early and its absence is never quite filled. Orlando (Francisco Reyes), a 57-year-old Santiago businessman with a gentle sort of gravitas, is finishing up his day at the office and heading out to meet his girlfriend. Walking into a dinner club, he pauses to listen to the beautiful singer of the mediocre band. As she croons a tart little ballad about how “your love is like yesterday’s newspaper”, Orlando watches with eyes that simply drink her in like someone newly smitten…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: The Oscars Get It Wrong

You would have thought that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would have thought that 2017 was a good year for engaging with a raging body politic and fracturing republic. Not so much.

You can read “In a Turbulent Year, the Oscars Retreat to Fantasy” at Eyes Wide Open:

What did [the Academy] decide? That in the midst of skyrocketing levels of economic inequality, near-weekly threats to the norms of American democracy, occasional panic about the itchiness of not one but two megalomaniacs’ nuclear-trigger fingers, and the normalization of white nationalism, the most nominated movie of the year was a fantasy about a woman in love with a merman.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

Nota Bene: What’s Soderbergh Reading/Watching?

So every year, Steven Soderbergh—the polymath film/theater/TV director who just can’t quit the movies—puts out a list of everything he watched (TV and movies) and books and stories he read the previous year. He also includes the dates of when he watched/finished reading said objects.

It’s a great list, packed with scads of 1970s classics that anyone familiar with his medium-cool sensibility would recognize shards of in his work—All the President’s Men, The Parallex View—tons of true-crime TV (so much Dateline), and a stack of books that are worth anyone’s time (everything from Robert Caro’s monumental Robert Moses biography The Power Broker to Marlon James’ phenomenal music-crime epic A Brief History of Seven Killings).

He also watched Mad Max: Fury Road and His Girl Friday on the same day. Try it sometime.

Department of Resolutions: Best Movies of 2017

Now that we’re done with Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve and the listing of resolutions soon to be broken, it’s time to get around to catching up on some movies. After all, it’s cold out there and the Golden Globes are coming up.

My year-end tally of the best movies of 2017 is at Eyes Wide Open.

Time to get watching.

Screening Room: ‘Molly’s Game’

West Wing and The Social Network writer Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut is a smart and fast-paced fact-based drama about an ex-Olympic skier who ends up running high-stakes poker games only to get taken down by the FBI.

Molly’s Game stars the incomparable pair of Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba (above) and opens on Christmas Day. My review is at PopMatters:

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly’s Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it’s almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it’s based on a true story…