Isle of Dogs (2018): Overlong Beginning Leads to a Good End

Wes Anderson is one of my Top 3 favorite directors (the other two being Stanley Kubrick and John Carpenter). How does this film stand up compared to his other works? It is good, I loved the visuals and characters, but it doesn’t have the depth as some of his other works and it never reaches greatness, even though it is really good. The location and characters are wonderful with some beautiful homages to Kurosawa, and the main cast is wonderfully quirky with the main character arc being solid. So for my non-spoiler thoughts, this definitely gets a strong recommend.

The film was directed by Wes Anderson, who also wrote and was one of the producers of the film. With the other producers being Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson.

The story follows Atari (Koyu Rankin) a young Japanese boy and ward of the new authoritarian Mayor. He travels to the Isle of Dogs to find his dog Spots (Liev Schrieber) on the Island after all dogs are exiled there due to the Dog Flu. Five dogs help on his quest, with Chief (Bryan Cranston) being the stray who hates humans but must learn to trust Atari for them all to survive the quest. As the quest unfolds a conspiracy is revealed on the Isle of Dogs and Megasaki City.

The Pros:

The Animation and Visuals – The film is done in highly detailed, beautiful stop motion animation. Wes Anderson’s use of symmetry is on full display, as each character and their emotions stand out like drum beats on the screen. You can tell that Kurosawa inspired Wes Anderson, and the making of the film. Both directors are good at using wide open spaces to tell stories of travel, and color to express life and death. We get all of that in this film.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack, like the visuals, takes a lot of inspiration from Akira Kurosawa, from the quiet openings with stark drums, and the emphasis on percussion. Alexandre Desplat captures the world so starkly, bringing the characters and scenes to life.

The Pack – The Pack is wonderful. Goldblum’s Duke is a gossip and hears things, Murray’s Boss is kind of oblivious and likes wearing trinkets, Norton’s Rex is the default second-in-command and sometimes leader, Balaban’s King is the washed up ex-celebrity dog who goes through bouts of depression, and Chief is their tough battle-worn leader.

Chief’s Arc – The main arc of the movie belongs to the stray, Chief, who goes from hating humans to becoming Atari’s new bodyguard. His story is believable too, with a dog he likes (Nutmeg) first suggesting he give the kid a chance, and ending with the Atari caring for him as he goes from covered in black soot, to looking just like Spots. He was my favorite character, and I loved how as standoffish as he initially was. There were reasons behind it, just like his transformation made sense due to Atari’s compassion. By the end, he’s the main connector between humanity and the dogs.

Atari and the Mayor – The Mayor is a distant relative of Atari, and for some reason really hates the dogs (it is implied that his ancestors did, and of course they loved cats). In the end Atari’s love for the dogs changes his heart. He does what he can in the end to stop the dogs from being destroyed due to that last minute change of heart. I liked Mayor Kobayashi in the end, he was a great antagonist and had a level of complexity to him.

Okay: The Foreign Exchange Student / The Student Arc – Tracy Walker leads her class in saving the dogs on the Island. My issue with this was that we never get what brought her to Japan, so it gives a bit of a white savior vibe to her interactions, especially since the other students are never given words. I’m still putting her at okay as Tracy was a compelling character, the downside is she could have been anyone, and I would have preferred she’d have been Japanese like Atari.

What About the Cats? – I’m putting this as okay as the film could have become overcrowded if we had the cats speaking. I also wanted to know the cats motivations. It implies they are the leaders of Japan, but it never does anything with it. The cats never have a voice, and it takes away from the overall point. They weren’t even needed, since the focus was on the dogs.

The Cons:

The Japanese are Only Given a Voice Through Limited Translation – This ties into Tracy and the students. Most Japanese never get the chance to speak, or be understood, as they are filtered through translation. This wasn’t needed at all. I think it was meant for us to focus fully on the story of the dogs, but the story of humanity and the dogs is interconnected, so both should have their voices fully heard.

Pacing – The pacing is the biggest issue, about 20 minutes in I was exhausted (I walked from Ready Player One to the awesome indie theatre, Salem Cinema, for this double feature). This may have been a contributing factor to how slow it felt, and why it took me out of the film early on. It is slow, even though the payoff later is fantastic.

This was a film that I really enjoyed, and captures so much of why Wes Anderson is one of my favorite directors. From the characters and their detachment, to the fight against the stronger enemy (Atari against the government), and the quirky characters (mostly the dogs)… If you are a fan of Wes Anderson, you will love this film. If you aren’t a fan, or haven’t heard of him… I’d still recommend it. This is an original story that may take a while to reel you in, but once there you’ll be hooked.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10

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“Star Wars Rebels” Season 3 – Some Great Arcs are Completed and one of my Favorite Villains Enters the New Canon

    “Star Wars Rebels” has found great quality again, and they do it by getting rid of the Inquisitors (who were really wasted last season) all together and bringing in a character who existed in the original canon of Star Wars, Grand Admiral Thrawn. Doing this was one of the smartest things Disney could have done as even when the Empire is losing most of the time in small battles, it all comes together in Thrawn’s master plan and a pretty glorious final that shows just how deadly the Empire is since the Death Star or Battle of Hoth. Suffice to say, I loved this season and highly recommend it.

    The story of Season 3 involves the arrival of Governor Pryce as the new Moff over Lothal and Grand Admiral Thrawn as the new Imperial Agent to destroy the Rebellion in the sector. As the rebellion gathers allies to free Lothal from Imperial Rule Thrawn uses their own strengths against them as his master plan unfolds to wipe out the Rebellion.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Growing Rebellion Arc – A major arc this season is the Rebellion collecting allies and meeting the leaders of other cells. Whether it is Saw Gerrera on Geonosis, the stupid Iron Squadron, the Twi’lik on Ryloth, Hondo and leaders of the Rebellion like Mon Mothma. This season continues on Season 2 and 1 as the Rebellion Cells are coming together to form a greater fleet so worlds can be liberated.

The Mandalore Arc – The Mandalore arc is one in which the Empire is in firm control but slowly loses it as Sabine and Clan Wren become greater power players when she takes on the leader of the Empire on Mandalore, Gar Saxon and makes peace with her family. From here it is decided to fight and Mandalore is thrown once more into Civil War as it is the only chance for Mandalore to exist for Mandalore and not the Empire. This is where Sabine leaves too as she has found a greater purpose beyond the tech. of the Ghost crew.

The Fulcrum Arc – Agent Kallus is fully a good guy in this season and his arc is helping the Rebellion and getting information to them until he is discovered by Thrawn. In this we see the Rebellion come to trust him and his arc ends with him officially joining them at their lowest as Thrawn’s battle is a success and the Rebels are routed from their base.

Maul’s Arc – Maul’s arc continues the theme of last season of showing how the Dark Side only leaves one alone and resentful of all. By the end of the series all he has is hatred of Obi-Wan and nothing more as he was not able to corrupt Ezra. For a character who really should have stayed dead or died in Clone Wars they at least gave his story a purpose. He is a character who brings about pity as he has lost everything and the Empire is so large and powerful he has no way of gaining back his prior position. He is taking easy outs because if he stays around long enough the Empire will hunt him down. His story is sad and he shows the loneliness of the Dark Side and how empty the quest for power truly is as in the end he dies in Obi-Wan’s arms as Obi-Wan has found peace and a higher cause beyond power and is able to help Maul find peace.

The Bendu – Tom Baker plays the Bendu, a force being who is made up of both the Dark and the Light. He is the one who trains Kanan and Ezra and helps them find balance after their losses last season. He is a great character who in the end is hurt by the Jedi, showing that they aren’t good, as forcing him to fight leads to his death at the hands of Thrawn. In the end he was right in a way and in the end the Jedi turning him to the Dark Side and destroying his balance, is one of the saddest parts of the season as it is what leads to his destruction.

Grand Admiral Thrawn’s Plan and Payoff – Much of this Season involves Thrawn as the observer, watching the different players of the Rebellion and studying how they fight, discovering who Fulcrum is and developing weapons for the Empire. In the end his plan is a success, though it is isn’t a complete success. He destroys most of the Rebellion on Atollon and forces the Rebellion on the run again. He only loses due to the pride of Pryce and Konstantine who let ego get in the way of results and in order for the Rebels to even survive Commander Sato has to sacrifice himself to destroy a ship at the Battle of Atollon, which the battle that ends this season.

Revenge versus Mercy – One of the major themes this season is Revenge versus Mercy and the heart of how the Rebellion and characters should act. We see this with Saw Gerrera and his willingness to kill the last survivor of Geonosis, Cham Syndulla and his willingness to kill and risk his life for the liberation of Rylok and each cases how isolated the characters are when they don’t act with mercy and only want Revenge. It is mercy that turns Kallus to the Rebellion and helps the Rebellion gain allies from Mandalore as well as keeping Ezra’s balance. This theme is universal through the season and gave it strength.

Grand Admiral Thrawn – Lars Mikkelson plays one of my favorite characters in the EU, both in the original lore and now the new lore. This is a character who is an alien among an organization made up of humans and because of this doesn’t care about his own ego and pride. He is ruthless and cares about results and it makes sense because he is an outsider. He has a history and we see that he is honorable to as he lets Cham Syndulla escape after Cham is willing to destroy his own home to escape and is the observer. Every rebel victory is a learning experience that pays off. He is unconventional too as he is making Tie Defenders on Lothal and they are shielded ties that the ghost crew has trouble destroying. Because his greatest asset is knowledge he takes out rebels spies whenever we see him and he is the one who traps Fulcrum and nearly destroys the Rebellion, as the Rebels only manage to escape because Kanan angers the Bendu and Ezra brings allies from Mandalore. He is still alive and I can’t wait to see what he does next season. Just as he was my favorite character in the original lore he is now in the new canon.

Okay: Empire Needed More Wins – The Empire still needed more wins, and with the dead of Admiral Constantine (a stupid Admiral who is obsessed with glory) is killed in the finale that may happen. Thrawn turns even scenarios were he doesn’t crush the Rebellion into learning experiences that lead to his trap unfolding at the Battle of Atollon.

 The Cons: Iron Squadron – Iron Squadron is a rebellion run by a bunch of kids. They were super annoying and overpowered. They were the only folks from the Rebellion we meet who clash with the competence and fear that pervades the rest of the Rebellion and allies. I hated this episode, it is the only episode I hated this season. The rest are good or great.

   Season 3 was a lot better than Season 2 and was much more focused than Season 2 as Thrawn’s overall agenda was revealed at the end and the rebel plans became undone. This was a Hoth moment for the Lothal Rebellion and it was powerful to see what was supposed to be a fleet to liberate Lothal, decimated by Thrawn and the Rebellion forced to run, only just surviving because of unexpected allies. I really enjoyed this given that the Empire experienced mostly losses this season until Thrawn’s trap was finally sprung. This Thrawn is true to his original counterpart in the books in all the ways that matter, and if you were a fan of him in the books, as I was, you will most likely love him on the show. Can’t wait to see how his story unfolds and I hope he survives this series.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Star Wars Rebels – Season 2, Episode 11 – “The Protector of Concord Dawn” – Aggressive Negotiations

Concord_Dawn_thumb

    “The Protector of Concord Dawn” is the greatest episode in a while. Not only do we see a return of the Mandalorians but we are given a choice and dilemma, which is part of what “The Clone Wars” so great. This is an episode that captures the stakes and the charms of the best episodes from that series, which this Season has needed.

The episode was directed by Brad Rau and written by Henry Gilroy and Kevin Hopps.

The story involves the rebels seeking safe passage through Concord Dawn, which is Mandalorian space. After Hera’s negotiations fail and she is nearly killed as is most of her squadron, Sabine returns seeking revenge as Kanan returns trying to finish the negotiation.

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of the Rebellion having to negotiate with the Mandalorians or to beat them in their space is really interesting as it shows that the Rebellion has to make hard choices too and won’t always be the hero. This episode really illustrates that and that war has consequences.

The Opening Battle – The opening battle is awesome! Phoenix Squadron is annihilated and Sabine, Hera and one other pilot barely escape Rau and his Protectors. It raises the stakes and shows that these are men to be feared.

Fenn Rau and the Protectors – Fenn Rau and his organization are pretty awesome. They get money from the Empire to keep folks out of their space and are intriguing as the reason they made the deal is so they’d be left alone. I had a lot of respect for Rau and hope that he escapes to get revenge on the rebels for capturing him to blackmail him and his people.

Sabine – We see Sabine’s ruthlessness here and that she does know her people pretty well, as the Protectors didn’t want to work with the Rebellion. It is thanks to her quick thinking that they are disarmed and the only reason that her and Kanan weren’t captured.

Kanan – Kanan is the clear head but still gets ruthless for the Rebellion. No matter how you cut it he went darkside here as he captured and held a man against his will in order to take control of his space, this is after he destroyed his ships of course. Kanan’s idealism came up against reality and idealism lost. I liked seeing that as it was realistic.

The Cons: Rex – Rex should have been used. He implied that he trained with Rau but that is never used. He would have been perfect for negotiation as he had the mindset the Rau did of just wanting to be left alone by both sides.

If Rex had been used this would have been a perfect episode. So glad the Mandalorians are back, and I hope the rescue Rau and that Rau gets his chance for revenge. This episode showed that to win in war you have to make hard choices and sometimes there isn’t a good option, just a lesser bad option.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Star Wars Rebels – Season 2, Episode 7 – “Stealth Strike” – New Friendship But More Failing Empire

Star Wars Rebels Stealth Strike

    First I’m going to say I like this episode, it isn’t a favorite but I enjoyed it. My issue is that the Empire continues to lose. I should have never listened to the interview where they said this Season would be “The Empire Strikes” back of “Star Wars Rebels.” So far it hasn’t…it’s even more positive than ‘The Clone Wars” and “A New Hope,” which for the Dark Times just doesn’t cut it for me.

“Stealth Strike” was directed by Brad Rau and written by Matt Michnovetz.

The story involves Ezra and Sato being caught by the Empire when they discover an Experimental Star Destroyer that can pull ships out of Light Speed. From here it is up to Rex and Kanan to rescue them and stop this new weapon.

The Pros: Ezra – Ezra is a cocky guy but he loses this time and it isn’t until  Rex and Kanan are helping him take out the weapon that we get to see how powerful he is as a Jedi. He isn’t overpowered like Starkiller in “The Force Unleashed,” so it keeps him interesting. He also earns Sato’s respect.

Rex and Kanan – These two are at odds but have grown to be friends, as we see at the end when Rex doesn’t turn on them and Kanan comes back to rescue him. It’s a great moment and this episode was a Clone Wars callback for sure.

Agent Kallus – Kallus is smart about the Rebels now, sadly the man in charge of the special weapon was not. Kallus got a big “I told you so,” at the end.

Okay: Chopper – Choppper it too overpowered. Nobody suspects droids even though they were the main enemy of the Clone Wars and countless times Chopper has saved the day.

Commander Sato – Sato doesn’t have any personality yet, he’s just a blank slate who commands respect. I want to know what drives this guy so the mystery puts him as an okay rather than a con.

The Cons: How the Empire Was Handled – The Empire captures the Rebels and does nothing with it. Sato should have been sent to an Imperial Prison, Ezra should have been executed or at least the attempt of execution immediately, and the super weapon needed more fail safes.

This was an episode that could have been more. Even Grievous managed to hold onto his super weapons longer and he was a coward and an idiot. I expected more from the Empire, they still have to be the best if the Rebels are to be the underdogs. This season they are not the underdogs at all…except for the Pilot “Siege of Lothal.”

Final Score: 7.8 / 10

Star Wars Rebels – Season 2, Episode 4 – “Brothers of the Broken Horn” – Among Pirates

Brothers of the Broken Horn

  Hondo is back in a decent episode of “Star Wars Rebels.” This is an episode that largely explores Chopper and Ezra and reminds us that more of the characters from the Clone Wars era survived. It isn’t a great episode but it does what it has to do for Ezra’s arc in the episode to be completed.

     The episode was directed by Saul Ruiz and written by Bill Wolkoff.

     The story involves Ezra being overwhelmed with all his responsibilities so he decides to take the ship and Chopper to investigate a distress signal. It is there they discover Hondo who tries to make Ezra a member of his crew.

The Pros: Chopper – Chopper comes in handy this episode and we see that he is there for than comedic relief as we see him take on Pirate Droids and gangsters in order to save Ezra and Hondo from being by Azmorigan.

Captain Rex – His scenes are small as he only appears at the beginning and end of the episode but his scenes are great as we see him trying instill discipline in Ezra and train him to be a soldier.

Hondo – Hondo is back and hilarious! We see that he is very a smooth talker and loves the challenge or a worthy mental opponent. He survives, which is a theme of his as he survived the Clone Wars and is surviving the Empire. In the end he leaves with a respect for Ezra as Ezra gets the supplies he needs for a Rebel colony world.

Ezra – This is Ezra’s episode to show how much he’s grown and the episode does a good job of showing it as he quickly distrusts Hondo and is always trying to get back to his crew but with the supplies they need. He is quick on his feet too and acts with fairness even when dealing with cheats and murders like Hondo and Vizago.

Okay: Vizago – He is just kind of there as Hondo stole his ship and shutdown his droids. Rather than working with Ezra though we see him just act self destructive, which was a shame.

The Cons: Azmorigan – This gangster is weak and Chopper even chases him away. I wish we had another Underworld Boss as this guy has never felt like a threat…even when he’s holding guns against our protagonists head.

This was a good episode that is worth checking out if you have been watching the series or watched Clone Wars. Hondo is back and he feels like the character he’s always been, a survivor and pirate who will do whatever it takes to get more…though with some semblance of honor as he respects those who have a code.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Star Wars Rebels – Season 2, Episode 3 – “Always Two There Are” – The Inquisitors Return

Always Two There Are

    Zeb is finally useful again! This episode was good at showing at why he’s a member of the Team as well as establishing the threat of Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister as we finally get to see them in action and why they were made Inquisitors. Suffice to say, this episode made me curious to see how their backstories unfold.

      The episode was directed by Brad Rau and written by Kevin Hopps.

      The story involves Ezra, Zeb, Sabine and Chopper going to an abandoned Old Republic Medical Base for supplies and having to escape when Inquisitors arrive on the scene as Ezra and Sabine end up captured.

The Pros: The Tone – The tone is that of horror as the base is good at giving a good haunted vibe to it that only increases with the arrival of the Inquisitors.

The Inquisitors – I really like the Seventh Sister and think the Fifth Brother has potential. The Seventh Sister does the temptation deal and shows how on top of things she is as she knows about Ahsoka and manages to capture Ezra. The Fifth Son captures Sabine and it is only with a suicidal plan from Zeb that our team even manages to make our escape.

Rex – Rex is teaching Kanan discipline which is something he never got fully as he was only a Padawan during the Clone Wars (something the Seventh Sister points out). It’s cool seeing Rex becoming the Obi-Wan of the group. I feel bad for him having lost so many brothers though and the fact that his Jedi is now a Sith Lord.

Kanan – Kanan grows a lot in this as we see him finally listen to Rex and be willing to learn and grow.

Zeb – Zeb is great! He goes from comedic relief to showing why he’s a part of the Team as he risks everything to save Sabine and Ezra and keeping the others safe from the Inquisitors. He needed this episode after how off to the side he’s been this season.

Okay: Sabine and Chopper – These two are good but I can’t think of any character defining moments for them. They are simply there being supportive and we don’t learn anything new about them.

  This was a great episode and easily the best this season since “Siege of Lothal” was a tv film. I highly recommend it and hope we see our Inquisitors defeat our heroes at least a few times and hurt the Rebel Alliance. We know the Rebels win in the end, so let the villains show why they are villains and win sometimes.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Star Wars Rebels – Season 2, Episode 2 – “Relics of the Old Republic” – Clones and Jedi Together Again

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  “Relics of the Old Republic” is another solid episode of “Star Wars Rebels.” There hasn’t been a great episode so far but I think that’s mostly due to the writers developing the feel and characters of this season as we have a much more expansive cast thanks to the addition of the Clones and Ahsoka. How their arcs will all play out remains to be seen though.

    The story involves Agent Kallus’s assault on the Clones and Rebels as Kanan continues to deal with his distrust of them while Hera works on an escape.

The Pros: Agent Kallus – The guy should have done an orbital bombardment but I got to give him props for coming down in AT-AT’s and he did destroy the Clones’ Tank, even if all his Walkers were destroyed in the process. It was kind of out of his control since Constantine got recalled to pick up an Inquisitor

The Clones and Rex – I really like them, especially Rex who has adopted Ezra as a Ahsoka or Anakin type of partner. It was great seeing them in action against Kallus’s AT-AT Walkers and them having to work with the Jedi to survive. It was like “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” again.

Kanan – Kanan’s distrust is still just as strong but he begins coming around, especially when Rex tells him that the Jedi are the only ways they will survive the battle and that he always trusts his General. After the battle Kanan begins to warm towards them.

Ezra – Ezra is the one who has to guide them above when they are in the sandstorm and we see him step up to the challenge. It is awesome seeing that it is Rex’s belief in him that gives him the courage to do it too.

Okay: Sabine, Zeb, Hera and Chopper – All of them are just kind of there and we don’t get any real character time with any of them. They are just surviving and none of them had standout moments this episode.

  This was a good ending to the arc that started last episode. We meet the Fifth Brother Inquisitor at the end of the episode and the Clones join the Rebellion so there are lots of stories that could be made. Part of me is hoping that the Clones go out in a blaze of glory or get back in touch with their Mandalorian heritage. Either way, there is so much that can be done thanks to this episode.

Final Score: 8 / 10