Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

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mfunk9786
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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#176 Post by mfunk9786 » Sun Apr 08, 2018 11:01 pm

OldBobbyPeru wrote:That's good to know, but the irony remains, as I keep coming back to find... you know, posts about the movie in the thread about the movie.
I'd argue that this thread has been quite on topic, most have this discussion has been relevant to the film. The reason for the original split is because it had moved away from the film into a lengthier discussion on Jordan Peterson, so it made more sense to move it all at that point. Sorry if it's not the form of conversation about Isle of Dogs you'd like it to have taken, but it's been about the movie regardless.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#177 Post by OldBobbyPeru » Mon Apr 09, 2018 2:23 pm

It's on topic if the topic is 'othering' and cultural appropriation and the Washington Redskins.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#178 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Apr 09, 2018 2:27 pm

Again, I’m very sorry if it’s not the conversation about Isle of Dogs you were looking for, but you’re the only one keeping it going.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#179 Post by dvakman » Mon Apr 09, 2018 4:27 pm

Having just seen the film yesterday, I'm struck that in this day and age it's very difficult to avoid any creative approach being analyzed primarily through a sociocultural lens. Perhaps it was naive of Anderson to have missed this as a potential criticism of his movie, or maybe he saw it coming and decided he was going to make the movie he wanted to make anyway. Without knowing anything about the initial conception of this film, but being aware of his past approach to scriptwriting, I can imagine that the final result may have simply been an amalgam of aesthetic choices happening in tandem. Yes, I want to make a film set in a somewhat fictionalized futuristic Japan. Yes, I'd love to write a script in which much of the dialogue (for a good portion of the audience, anyway) is incidental or unimportant or left open to interpretation (think Tati's Playtime or the adult speech in Peanuts cartoons, both well known Andersonian influences. Of course, Playtime's lack of subtitles is already consistent with the overall lack of intelligible dialogue from any of the characters in the film!). Judging from his comments on past projects, Anderson seems to enjoy applying certain preconditions or constraints to a script, and then carrying those to a formal extreme. I imagine that the American exchange student character, for example, was largely written that way because they suddenly had a character who was required to be more spontaneously emotive than most of the other human characters in several scenes, and so they made her English speaking, because using translation as a device would have been ineffective or awkwardly executed for that particular character. My point is that I think these "issues" some people have with the film were more likely to have arisen from the agreed upon logic and formal constraints Anderson decided upon in telling this story, rather than stemming from a subconscious Eurocentric bias or wish to implicitly comment on the character of the Japanese people. Of course, the film is still open to sociocultural criticism whether the motivations behind it were purely aesthetic or not... but I do think that some of the critics might be less troubled by the film (in some respects) if they'd consider the general way that Anderson tends to approach storytelling and film making.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#180 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Apr 09, 2018 7:40 pm

The nephew was far more important than the exchange student -- and got far more screen time (and was more genuinely emotional -- as opposed to simply noisier). ;-)

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#181 Post by OldBobbyPeru » Mon Apr 09, 2018 7:49 pm

I just now saw it this afternoon, so let me add my impressions rather than my earlier grumbling.

I thought it was amazing and astounding. I don't generally see a lot of animated films, in fact the last one I saw was Fantastic Mr. Fox. And while the technical level on that film was very high, this one is on steroids. The puppets, the animation, the entire production design is jaw dropping. The sets are insane. I'm used to Anderson showing a lot of attention to detail, (understatement) but this is crazy. I want to see it again, and probably will in a couple of days, because there's a lot to take in, just on a visual level.

I caught some Kurosawa references, but I think I saw some other nods to Japanese films, or it might have been my imagination. When the St. Bernard and the Oracle dog first appear out of the tall grass, was anyone else reminded of Onibaba? And the lab where they good guys are cooking up the cure for snout fever reminded me of the lab in The Face of Another.

Mostly, I thought it was just FUN. To me, it seemed like a giant love letter to Japan. It touched on SO many cultural references, from the opening bit with the Taiko drums, to Kabuki, samurais, sumo, ramen, sushi, woodcut art, in short everything that makes Japan fascinating. I loved it.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#182 Post by DarkImbecile » Wed Apr 11, 2018 2:21 pm

Having finally caught up with Isle of Dogs, I'll second the praise for the density and complexity of the stop-motion work and for the many moments of visual wit, but I also have to agree with those who find the gap between the craft and the content wide enough to make one question whether the painstaking process was worth a thin, not particularly rewarding story and meager characterization.

Anderson's best work manages to artfully balance the eccentric humor and carefully manicured artifice for which he's famous with humane, melancholic performances rooted in loss or longing, but his two animated films especially tip too far toward the former. Even though the voice cast is dominated by his usual collaborators, there's something about having actual human beings on screen that makes up for the affectations of Andersonian tone and dialogue and allows for a kind of emotional connection that he has yet to be able to replicate in animation (no matter how many close ups we get of dogs' eyes welling with tears).

As for the cultural insensitivity debate, I'll be curious to hear what the reaction is when this is released in Japan next month. There's no intrinsic/artistic reason I can see to have the translator/exchange student characters at all, when Anderson could have just subtitled the Japanese dialogue when humans are speaking to other humans, which still allows for the dogs to speak English and not entirely understand the humans they interact with. This probably resolves the vast majority of complaints in and of itself while also streamlining some of the structural awkwardness these conceits bring. On the other hand, the complaints about this film also feel a bit abstracted, in that it seems to be hard for people to articulate exactly what the film is doing wrong that's harmful to the people/culture being depicted. As I understand the concept of appropriation, it entails a dominant culture adopting the cultural/linguistic markers of a minority culture with which there is a major power imbalance. Isle is a movie made by American and Japanese filmmakers set in Japan and populated by Japanese characters, in a world where Japanese culture is one of the more dominant and not at any risk of being subsumed by that of Western artists or excluded from other societies. This seems to me pretty clearly incomparable to Native American mascots for American sports teams or mid-20th century white American musicians lifting wholesale from black musicians while benefiting from an industry that actively conspired to keep black artists from profiting from their work. Complaints about the absence of Asian actors and creators from American media are totally legitimate, and here we have an American film from a major filmmaker that is co-written by and co-starring Japanese talent; if the criticism that this has taken discourages other filmmakers from even attempting to examine or engage with other cultures in their work, isn't that counterproductive?

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#183 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Apr 11, 2018 4:35 pm

I actually found Anderson's use of Nazi death camp(-like) imagery more troubling than any Japan-related issues.

While I did generally enjoy this a good deal, I also think the exchange student detracted from the film.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#184 Post by Mr Sausage » Thu Apr 12, 2018 3:36 pm

In assessing this film, people've been relying on a number of received terms, borrowed concepts, and ready-made ideas that are being allowed to pass without scrutiny. One of the most frequently used is 'otherness'. It's said the Japanese in this film are othered, and it is taken for granted that this is a bad thing--indeed, it is so taken for granted that it goes unexplained. But the idea of otherness is a complicated idea and quite far from being intrinsically negative.

One of the elements of maturing as a person is recognizing otherness--recognizing that others are not extensions of ourselves, but separate and often quite different and unknowable beings. As Hugh Kenner puts it, recognizing otherness means recognizing that others contain “a portion of being neither susceptible to [one’s] control nor violable to [one’s] gaze.” Othering is a spectrum between two extremes, both negative: you can other someone else to the point where they cease to share even your humanness; you can also de-other someone else to the point that you strip them of their distinctiveness, and they become an extension of you without individual identity. So to treat othering as an intrinsic negative, not needing even explanation, is to fail to recognize how necessary othering is to our emotional and intellectual maturity.

All foreign languages must be mediated. Anderson foregrounds that mediation by incorporating it into the form of his movie. This is both a typical Anderson distancing effect and an attempt to make this other culture seem less familiar, less an extension of our own culture, something that we cannot either control or violate with our gaze. Japan, like any unfamiliar culture, has to be mediated for us, and Anderson’s film makes that mediation part of its structure. We can appreciate that culture, learn from it, even participate in it. But we cannot share it. Our gaze on Japan in this movie is Anderson’s: an admiring outsider who doesn‘t pretend to insider’s knowledge. It’s only troublesome if you’re looking for trouble, I think. Otherwise, it’s just honest. It’s the place we all have to start: appreciative non-understanding. And just as if we were travelers in Japan, we have to make our way using guides, loan words, translators and translations, facial and contextual cues, and plenty of good will.

Subtitles are an insidious artifice; they create a sense that we’re getting direct access to another language and culture, one exactly congruent with our own somehow, without being told who or what is giving that access and on what principles, and all while the subtitles slide into the background until we cease to notice them. They're not part of that culture or language--they're not even really part of the movie--and we generally don't know whose words they are. It's a translation we're not really encouraged to see as translation (notice how even boutique lables like Criterion that recognize the nature of translation enough to provide multiple subtitle tracks when they can still never provide space for a translator's introduction). Subtitles bring us closer to a language and a culture, yes, and therefore are less othering. But they do that by eliding the differences and distinctions; they let us sit in a comfortable fiction. We're not hearing what the characters are actually saying, we're getting an approximation limited by time, space, interpretation, and talent, and yet one that we're encouraged to forget is an approximation as the film runs on.

If Anderson’s going to employ an artifice, he’s going to be upfront about it and let his audience deal with its difficulties face to face, as it were. Nowhere does he allow us to slip unconsciously into the sense that we are overhearing Japanese people in English, somehow. We're not. We're always at a distance; we don't speak this language or inhabit this culture. And because Anderson's film employs translation judiciously, it never becomes translation as a film. Too many American films set in foreign cultures end up translating those cultures for the audience so that everything seems exotic, and yet pat and familiar, like a slightly strange version of our own culture with people who are pretty much just like us. They think, talk, and act like we do, just with an accent and some unfamiliar clothes. Anderson side-steps this by making sure the Japanese are nothing except themselves, crucially by making translation an explicit part of the movie's form. The Japanese characters in the movie have their own voices; they're just not our voices.

Also, regarding Tracy: I'm at the point of saying that anyone who calls her a white saviour figure has signaled that they shouldn't be listened to.
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Her very un-Japanese actions leave her facing deportation. She's only saved from this by Atari's return. Really, without Atari (and that one tech kid), Tracy's actions wouldn't have been successful. She is the essence of the key helper. She's valuable, but her contributions can't stand alone. And I liked her: it's like dropping a Nancy Drew young-detective figure into a very different culture and watching the mismatch produce comedy. Worked fine for me. She's definitely the stereotype of the loud-mouth, assertive, aggressive American.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#185 Post by hearthesilence » Thu Apr 12, 2018 4:06 pm

Mr Sausage wrote:Subtitles are an insidious artifice; they create a sense that we’re getting direct access to another language and culture, one exactly congruent with our own somehow, without being told who or what is giving that access and on what principles, and all while the subtitles slide into the background until we cease to notice them. They're not part of that culture or language--they're not even really part of the movie--and we generally don't know whose words they are. It's a translation we're not really encouraged to see as translation (notice how even boutique lables like Criterion that recognize the nature of translation enough to provide multiple subtitle tracks when they can still never provide space for a translator's introduction). Subtitles bring us closer to a language and a culture, yes, and therefore are less othering. But they do that by eliding the differences and distinctions; they let us sit in a comfortable fiction. We're not hearing what the characters are actually saying, we're getting an approximation limited by time, space, interpretation, and talent, and yet one that we're encouraged to forget is an approximation as the film runs on.
I think this topic has come up elsewhere on this forum, and as I may have mentioned then, I've become very wary of subtitles. There's not much you can do when it's a language you don't know, but it's important to be aware that subtitle translations can make a world of a difference. I'm sure I posted this anecdote here before (over a decade ago!) but John Kirk at MGM presented a new print of Persona at Block Cinema and he went into great detail about the subtitle translations, specifically the orgy scene and how he knew enough Swedish to recognize how watered down the translations were on every English-language print from before. Before that story, I didn't really pay much attention to subtitle accuracy. Now when I see films from cultures that I understand pretty well, it can be alarming how much is lost, or rather how much personality is lost in the English translations (as well as cultural nuances). The presence of subtitles really is illusory in how much of a language is actually revealed to an outside viewer.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#186 Post by knives » Thu Apr 12, 2018 4:46 pm

I've also been fairly wary of subtitles, perhaps due to that early love of Italian and Godzilla movies, and the received wisdom about them seems uncritically observed. I also find Sausage's comments very reminiscent of Murnau's Tabu with its suspicion of language.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#187 Post by goblinfootballs » Thu Apr 12, 2018 5:07 pm

I think there's a case to be made that perhaps Anderson's intent re: language was to create a film that communicated the most information possible without a) subtitles or b) having human Japanese characters speak English. Hence the translators, the dogs speaking English, and Tracy. Think about how difficult it would be to move the plot forward without Tracy if you're not going to subtitle Japanese dialogue. That doesn't necessarily minimize the impact of the choices, but it makes the most logical sense for them.

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Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#188 Post by Mr Sausage » Thu Apr 12, 2018 5:46 pm

Plus, too, with a film this intricately animated, he may well've wanted to avoid drawing people's eyes away from it.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#189 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Apr 12, 2018 6:18 pm

There is also Sternberg's Anatahan, which relies as much as what one sees (and tones of voice) as Sternberg's voice-overs.

I also do not understand reviews/critiques which over-emphasize the role of Tracy. Definitely NOT a "savior"...

Addendum -- As far as I can tell, the _dogs_ in this film don't reflect the sort of mix of dog breeds one would expect to actually find in Japan. ;-)
Last edited by Michael Kerpan on Thu Apr 12, 2018 7:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#190 Post by Big Ben » Thu Apr 12, 2018 6:29 pm

I've got good friends in Brazil for instance and they quite often use the word "saudade" which has no direct English translation. There is only an approximate definition we can get and it's "longing". It's quite similar to the German word sehnsucht. Direct translations of Japanese are often quite ridiculous when translated directly as you're all very aware. All those absurd names used in the shows I used to watch as a kid come to mind. "Flaming Monkey Fist" or some such is just an approximation not necessarily what it means directly in Japanese.

I agree wholeheartedly with knives above.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#191 Post by knives » Thu Apr 12, 2018 6:59 pm

Learning about linguistics has been something that has caught my interest in the last few years and it really has shown me how unique each culture becomes due to those little untranslatable elements. For example a friend told me a story of how after a decade of not meeting a German buddy they got together with some other friends and just did not get along at all. Eventually they were left alone and started speaking to each other this time in German and got along exactly as in their college days. It turned out they disliked each other in English, but loved each other in German. Little things like that highlight for me why translation should be, as the Russians have seen it, as its own distinct art with no singular approach and unique authorships. I know MichaelB has spoken in depth about that here with Szindbad, but just imagine how strange The Simpsons in Italian must be.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#192 Post by OldBobbyPeru » Fri Apr 13, 2018 1:17 pm

I saw it again last night, and once again was blown away with the production design. The sets, some of which are just on screen for a few seconds are so detailed and meticulous, as of course befits an Anderson film. What particularly amazes me is that these puppets are only about 10-12 inches tall, and every little prop has to be made on that scale. The broadcast equipment behind the translator is dead-on 50's/60's recording studio technology, as is the console in the TV studio. I would guess that that is one reason Anderson is drawn to stop-motion. He's always more or less been building his own worlds in his films, how great to be able to control EVERYTHING! Think of it: in 2D animation, all objects are drawn. With 3D CGI animation, the computer can fill in textures and depth, but with stop motion, you have to physically create every little thing that appears on camera, from the puppets to their costumes to little tiny dog biscuits.

And the sushi sequence is hilarious.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#193 Post by whaleallright » Sat Apr 14, 2018 10:56 pm

Here's a good piece from the New Yorker on the cultural issues raised by the film.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#194 Post by Boosmahn » Sat Apr 14, 2018 11:11 pm

Just saw this. I thought Fantastic Mr. Fox looks good, but this... wow. From every moving hair on the dogs to the wiggling maggots on the rotting food, the detail was astounding. It's amazing that all of this had to be created by hand (with the exception of the on-screen television sequences, which appear to be 2D animation, something I thought was a nice touch). However, I wish we had more time to connect with the characters and their interactions: other Anderson films (heartful brotherhood in The Darjeeling Limited, adorable innocence of Sam and Suzy in Moonrise Kingdom, etc.) did this a bit better. The story tripped up from time to time, particularly the twist that reveals
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Chief is Spots' long-lost brother,


which felt a bit forced. Overall, though, it was a fun experience. I look forward to seeing it again- whenever that may be.

As for the controversy, I think people are finding things that aren't even there. Moeko Fuiji of The New Yorker wrote this nice article explaining the careful decision not to subtitle the spoken Japanese, benefitting one of the underlying themes: translation. The title "Isle of Dogs" itself is a reference to the "Oni-ga-shima," which doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the endless cultural references that will fly over Western viewers' heads (mine included, no matter how much anime I watch).

Edit: whaleallright just linked that article. :oops: I'll keep it in my post for informational purposes, though.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#195 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sun Apr 15, 2018 4:33 pm

Ms. Fuji's article makes clear that mere subtitling of the Japanese dialog (etc.) would not be adequate -- one would also need lots of footnoting (sort of like the excellent annotated script translation of Takahata's Only Yesterday available long ago on Nausicaa.net).

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#196 Post by John Shade » Mon Apr 16, 2018 2:53 pm

Finally got around to seeing this. A few different thoughts: I really appreciate Fuji's article in the New Yorker, which obviously adds more insight. I think one of the earlier articles crying foul also made the claim that the Japanese dialogue was too hard to understand, so much for that...I had another thought, in regard to the conversation many seem to be dreading, about the recent best animated feature winner, Coco. There were no comments on its thread about cultural appropriation, but having seen that one recently it seemed pretty calculating and potentially placating, lacking the nuance Fuji talks about (kind of an Epcot version of Mexico). Hopefully there will be more reactions from the Japanese film community (will Miyazaki comment on it?) I agree with an aspect of mfunk's initial review: Anderson doesn't get enough credit for the complexity of his writing. I hope that he doesn't become a caricature, perhaps that's what he already has been for his biggest detractors. As for the intended audience of the film, Anderson seems like a walking advertisement for cinephilia, the criterion collection, and now anime, along with dog lovers.

As far as the movie itself, I really enjoyed it but will second some criticisms about the story and characterization. While the visuals are overwhelming, there were a few points where the story lagged. I wonder if it had been a little tighter and more focused around Atari some of these problems wouldn't exist. There was one touch that I really liked and seemed very Miyazaki
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The mayor turning his back to the crowd and then offering his kidney.
I'm sort of in the middle about Tracy.
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I think she may have ruined by interrupting the most Anderson moment in the movie, Atari's haiku.
Yet I could also see her being a joke on the obnoxious American...
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If so, this joke mostly fell flat for me. It did give Anderson another gag about transfer credits being rejected. I think her being from Cincinnati could also be interpreted as a joke, and definitely the American flag outfit at the end.
. A lot of the jokes did work for me; interesting that this is the most clearly "political" film that he's made, which also involves an element of allegory, and yet there's a joke lurking around every political scene.

Anderson's previous two movies were always going to be a tough act to follow, so an animated love letter to Japanese culture and cinema with this amount of detail will do for now. Looking forward to the inevitable rewatches and then coming back and claiming this is actually genius.

edit: Meant to add this to my original post. I wonder if this is or will be for sale at some point?
https://www.empireonline.com/movies/new ... iro-otomo/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#197 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Apr 16, 2018 2:56 pm

John Shade wrote:Looking forward to the inevitable rewatches and then coming back and claiming this is actually genius.
Funny you put it this way: I absolutely expect to come in here with my tail between my legs at some point in the next few years, although I still wouldn't necessarily bet on that at the moment

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#198 Post by Luke M » Wed Apr 18, 2018 10:10 pm

I saw this today and I guess I’m the minority in that I didn’t care for it. It was such a strange film in that it feels like a movie about dogs made by someone who’s never had a dog. I like Wes Anderson movies but this one is easily his weakest.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#199 Post by Brian C » Wed Apr 18, 2018 10:28 pm

Luke M wrote:It was such a strange film in that it feels like a movie about dogs made by someone who’s never had a dog.
This is completely random, but what popped into my head when I read this sentence was, "That actually sounds like a perfect description of E.T."

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#200 Post by MongooseCmr » Thu Apr 19, 2018 10:00 am

Luke M wrote:I saw this today and I guess I’m the minority in that I didn’t care for it. It was such a strange film in that it feels like a movie about dogs made by someone who’s never had a dog. I like Wes Anderson movies but this one is easily his weakest.
That’s funny, because I chalked up a lot of my indifference to the end of the film to my never having a dog growing up, and the ones I’ve known as an adult being pests. It’s a gorgeous film but all the pat sentimental nonsense felt 100% in line with how I characterize dog lovers.

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