“Isle of Dogs”

Wes Anderson’s animated adventure trek is full of dry wit and laugh-out -loud deadpan humor. It is an up-dated version of a 12 year-old boy searching for his lost dog. The boy, Atari, happens to be Japanese and his savior-in-kind an American foreign exchange student named Tracy Walker ( Greta Gerwig’s voice).

We begin with “ Ten centuries ago before…” and the disclaimer that all barks have been rendered in English. We are introduced to “underdog dogs” who have been banished to a trash island. A complicated back story is told in several flashbacks. A 67th term incumbent has transformed the Japanese archipelago into a dog free state. The question of “ What ever happened to man’s best friend?” is asked again and again as the tidal wave of dog hysteria over snout fever deports all canines to the Isle of Dogs. “Fear has been mongrelized”. Here, in “Isle of Dogs”, we see rain and rats and maggot strewn refuse.

Bryan Cranston’s voice and wry tone  are perfect as the nomadic alpha dog, Chief. We hear rumors circulating amongst Duke, Boss, Rex and Chief: “ One of our own hanged himself on his own leash”. On the up side , we meet Nutmeg, a preening show dog who does lap dog tricks and keeps the male dogs sniffing. Most of the dog fights are over food, however ; and one of my favorite scenes is when the crew waxes over their favorite long lost treats be it green-tea ice cream or Kobe beef with lots of salt and pepper.

Our storyline meshes with kidney transplants, robotic replacement pets, aboriginal dogs, military issued teeth, and messenger owls. Add conspiracy theories, pro-dog student protests, and “red button” fears, and we wonder how Anderson can be so “au current” in his tale of tails.

The haikus rendered at apt parts are lovely. They stay to the traditional form and therefore include images of nature’s seasonal beauty, even as we see the trash mounding skyward. The five syllabic count lines “Frost on windowpane” and “Falling spring blossoms” made me smile.

The stop-action animation I am drawn to, but there are plenty of action dust clouds for others. Silhouettes and shadows are appreciated. The drum beat sound track keeps one’s heart pulsing and the stellar list of voice overs range from the aforementioned Cranston and Gerwig to Liev Schreiber, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.

I could see this treat again, but with Japanese sub-titles and even more campy refuse like igloos of saki bottles and hacker cubbies. Atari does find his pet and a new litter gives hope for the future. Wes Anderson answers the question “ Who are we, and who do we want to be?” with a animal loving  a drum roll.


See “Spotlight” for its incredible cast. Stanley Tucci should get an Oscar, Liev Schreiber does incredible understated work,too. The question of why every major news organization will not pay for a permanent investigative team should be asked. This is journalistic drama that seeks to spotlight the truth.

Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton shine a bright light on the sullied reputation of the Catholic Church and the lawyers that try to protect its coffers and its dark secrets. Bully Crudup and Jaime Sheridan play these  legal types well for more great casting.

Investigative journalism is being lauded at the same time that it is currently dwindling. This film shows us hard-working and passionate truth-seekers. Their spirit is invigorating, their service admirable and their success redemptive.

Directed and co-written  by Tom McCarthy, the film’s copy machines,  water coolers,carts of hanging files and  office clutter  can get drab. The golf  and baseball and running scenes ditto. Where this film shines is in the showing of abuse of power: both physical and spiritual. Though the heavy  gold cross worn by Cardinal Law ( Len Cariou )  over his black cassock is over the top and more akin to a Hip Hop rapper.

The cast lets us see just enough of their own pain when interviewing the now grown victims. One of the most touching scenes was Ruffalo’s face as he enters a Catholic Church to see children singing “Silent Night”. He morally can not keep this story quiet, even  when 53 per cent of the Globe’s subscriber base is Catholic. They will be interested. They will have their stories.

One of these interviews is with Fr. Paquin,who rationalizes that he never got pleasure from his actions. He is whisked off the front porch like a dim-witted child by his protective sister. With steeples in the background, we learn this dottering man was himself raped. More rationales like “people need the Church” are spouted. It is even stated that the new Jewish editor of “The Globe” doesn’t care about the city of Boston like we do. Ties and loyalties are strained. Excuses like “I was doing my job” are snidely answered with “Yeah, you and everybody else !”

Lifting the seal of documents when  “The Church thinks in centuries” is key to the case. Twenty grand for molesting a child makes a cottage industry of priestly abuse for attorneys. Private mediation leaves no paper trail and horrific abuse stays under wraps. Tucci plays an outsider, Mitchell Garabedian,an Armenian.He says that many are culpable: “it takes a village to raise a child, and a village to abuse one”. Tucci is so good at his part that we want to research this man and celebrate him as pure, not just eccentric! Recent articles have him “robbing the Church” as if it was an ATM machine.

The film ends with three scrolls of world cities where child abuse by priests were found. The systemic metric of six per cent of all priests as abusers is documented on the big screen,and the words of the psycho-therapist ex-priest (Richard Sipe) who studied pedophilia and its scandals for thirty years begs for the Church to get on the right side of its systemic problem by either rethinking celibacy or at least halting phony official designations in transferring recalcitrants. The resignation of Cardinal Law and his placement in Rome to an honored position tells us that more change needs to come in the institutional Church.