“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.

“A Bigger Splash”

” We are all obscene, but we love each other anyway.”  is  our  main character’s line. In society, this can mean a shipwreck.   In “A Bigger Splash” it means “Wow”. Complete sentences don’t do this film justice.

Terrific editing, a ballet of carefully chosen images, an art piece of a film with metaphors toppling metaphors ! A psychological study of privileged lives, a beautiful film about unbeautiful people. A melodrama of gecko- smashing miscreants, a film where the protagonists are more comfortable  with their bodies than they are with their psyches. I loved every frame and adored the use of  emotive music leading me on.

“A Bigger Splash” is a character driven film with scirocco winds stirring the scenes. Somehow we know there are people like this, they just are not our friends. The whole cast is terrific, supporting and starring. A quartet with maid and public servants all composing a symphony of selfish wants and jealous betrayals .

Ralph Fiennes is not the English patient here. I have never seen him more animated, more needy, more scheming, or more irritatingly playful. ” I found you!” he sings to his ex- lover when it is obvious that she did not wish to be found. His  enthusiastic dance scenes may be on the indulgent side, but we know the type. And they are fun to watch.

Fiennes plays Harry, the former producer and lover of ” the woman of the century”, rocker Marianne. ( Tilda Swinton) He never stops talking. He even memorizes Italian phrases  as “put-downs” like ” vomit your soul”. He cooks, guts fish with his hands, sculpts dough and takes Marianne after gulping warm ricotta?  ” Taste it while it is warm”.

Harry ends up cold dead in the swimming pool, but it isn’t because he slept with his daughter ( Dakota Johnson). He didn’t. He just made it his business to find his  younger friend Paul  six years after he suggested that Paul and Marianne hook-up.

The island  setting is Italian, where you can smell the jasmine waft from Tunisian shores. The cinematography is lush and inventive. Close-ups are held just long enough for us to focus on character facades, and see deeper. Vistas of clouds and tidal pools give us Adam and Eve terrain that this quartet messes up.

The intrigue is mesmerizing. The sensuality down to mud bathing and hair trimming extreme. The nudity more than European, and the ceiling-holding orgasms pushing it. I loved it, though I doubt the butt shot was Fiennes’. His swim strokes  synchronized to the flow of an aria equals cinematic explosion.

The dialogue is fresh and witty. Marianne is resting her voice. She uses sign language and whispers. Swinton is raspy and self-possessed. Her androgynous looks are rarely rattled, and when they are, we take notice. Harry prods her with, ” Did he (Paul) put a bell on your neck?” She is complicated, both direct and secretive. ” Chose a dress for me.” ” I’m happy, Harry. Can’t you stand that?”  Her motherly instinct is compassionate and refreshing. She is small when she tries to direct investigators to refugees as  probable murderers.

Matthias  Schoenaerts is sympathetic until he poses the dead Harry with his vinyl  album hits at the pool’s bottom. Harry had an impulse to humiliate. Paul knows that Harry did not come to the island for capers of the tiny, green sort.  As a reformed addict and  botched suicide , his Paul has a fatal knowing about him that seems archetypal. Schoenaerts can pull off  this kind of depth.

In many ways, ” A Bigger Splash” seems operatic, a farce, but we are the buffoons. It is a cinematic tour de force, that almost makes fun of itself. “A Bigger Splash” has then at least six meanings. The rockstar’s lover, Paul , getting away with murder because a policeman is enamoured  by Marrianne’s stardom being a big one.

Dakota Johnson plays  Penelope, a seventeen-year-old sexual tease, who must deal with the fact that she may have precipitated her father’s tragic death. Her pouty ways reminded me of the real Dakota of Oscar interview fame who made her mother endure her snark on camera. Kudos to Luca Guadagnino , who, directed her well. Her peevish ” I need more treasure.” says it for them all. The storyline and the writing of this erotic thriller are top- notch.   I felt it was a marvel.