Movie reviews: Wes Anderson's wonderful Isle of Dogs, Blockers, and Journeyman
- Isle of Dogs (PG, 101mins) - 5 stars
- Blockers (16, 102mins) - 4 stars
- Journeyman (15A, 92mins) - 3 stars
Paul Whittington reviews this week's other big releases.
Isle of Dogs - 5 stars
Someday a Wes Anderson film will be reviewed without recourse to the word whimsy, but reader, this is not that day. From the very start Anderson's movies have had a playful tendency to undercut the passions and misfortunes of their protagonists with irony: his characters talk too much, and tend to entirely miss the point of what's going on, but boy do they charm and amuse us while doing so. It could be argued that the most quintessential Anderson film was his 2009 Roald Dahl-inspired stop-motion animation Fantastic Mr Fox, but Isle of Dogs would certainly give it a run for its money.
It's set in the futuristic Japanese city of Megasaki, whose burly, Orwellian mayor, Kobayashi, has ordered all dogs to be banished to nearby Trash Island. His excuse is a rampant canine flu virus, and though something seems fishy about it, the cowed population plays along. So while Megasaki's smug and pampered cats kick back in luxury's lap, the poor mutts scrabble for scraps among the city's trash.
They're a mangy bunch, skinny and red-eyed, but as soon as they start talking things seem less grim. Because these dogs are as urbane and verbose and winningly neurotic as all Andersonian ensembles, and sound more like denizens of New York than Nagasaki.
Perhaps that's because they're voiced by the likes of Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Bryan Cranston and Jeff Goldblum, who discuss their grim dilemma as gracefully as a string quartet. And their fortunes take an upward turn when Kobayashi's adopted son Atari crash lands a stolen plane on the island, and starts looking for his missing dog. That search will draw he and the the dogs together to stage a daring raid on the unsuspecting city.
Isle of Dogs is not without its dark subtexts: that trash-strewn island has gloomy environmental echoes and makes reference to Japan's radioactive past. But Anderson is not the type to be detained for long by existential angst: above all, this film is a playful, funny animation, a delightfully eccentric stop-motion animation filled with witty Japanese cultural references to everything from Hokusai and Kurosawa.
It won't be for everyone, and those who've been irked by Anderson's previous work would be well advised to give this one a wide berth. But I loved it.
Blockers - 4 stars
A crass and ghastly trailer left me expecting the worst of Blockers. A film about concerned parents who try to stop their daughters losing their virginity on prom night sounds about as amusing as an emergency enema, but to our shock, Blockers is genuinely hilarious, full of embarrassing examples of parenting so clumsy and ill-advised that they have the ring of truth.
Lisa (Leslie Mann), Mitchell (John Cena) and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) are horrified when they discover that their teenage daughters have formed a pact to have sex at their high school prom, but their combined reaction will only succeed in making things a lot worse.
This film isn't just funny, it has heart, and is one of the best comedies to come out of Hollywood in the last five years.
Journeyman - 3 stars
Paddy Considine's dark and worthy drama Journeyman gives the boxing genre a sombre twist. Matty Burton (Considine) is a modestly talented middleweight fighter who's about to end his distinguished professional career by defending his world title against a mouthy young pretender. He wins the bout, but collapses with a stroke a few hours later as a result of a blow to the head.
Matty suffers memory loss, an intellectual relapse and a dramatic personality change, leading his wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker) to wonder if he's still the man she married. Considine is a good actor, and gives a convincing portrayal of a fighter embroiled in the battle of his life. But Journeyman ultimately sentimentalises the sport of boxing, and lets it off the hook.