Dog Zero: Unleashed

I think ISLE OF DOGS is one of the best things I’ve seen in a while, on the big screen. Half an hour in, Fiona whispered to me, “I like this better than FANTASTIC MR. FOX.” Don’t worry, nobody was sitting nearby to be disturbed. I remember we loved FANTASTIC MR. FOX so I would have to see that one again to compare more freshly. But this one is pretty great, and may show advances in the Wes Anderson emotional lexicon. (In brief: there are a lot of crying dogs and people in this one, and not all of the emotion is smothered under a thick layer of irony. This may mean Anderson is about to become a rank sentimentalist, but for now it means he’s opened up a little, the possibilities have become wider. It’s a process we’ve seen hints of for some time.)

I’d like to dispose of the whole cultural appropriation question quickly. I think this is a pretty clear example of the GOOD kind of cultural appropriation. It’s obviously born of a deep love of Japanese culture; it displays, and shares, relatively nuanced knowledge of that culture; I find it preferable to the bored tourist’s eye view of LOST IN TRANSLATION. I see lots of American indie films in my work as submissions viewer for Edinburgh International Film Festival, and one thing there isn’t enough of in American cinema is interest in other parts of the world. Sure, this is set in futuristic comedy Japan, but little kids aren’t going to be seeing Ozu just yet. Fiona wondered if the film was too strange and too dark for little kids. I don’t care: it’ll be SOME strange, dark little kid’s favourite movie.

If there are clear (but shifting) limits on the extent to which Anderson’s films engage with other cultures (Colourful Backdrop in THE DARJEELING LIMITED; Ruritanian Allegory in GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL), it’s still impressive here how much of the film plays as anti-Trump. I mean, the orange blob has only been squatting in office a year, and how long does it take to make an animated feature? The movie is obviously more broadly anti-dictator though, and I guess they’re all somewhat alike (Trump’s incoherent Twitter bellowing is down to the fact that he’s an aspiring dictator whose found himself in charge of a democracy, and doesn’t understand why he can’t make things happen just by shouting). But the executive order signing seems like a specific jab.

There’s a conspiracy plot — power-grab using manufactured plague — which dates back to AIDS conspiracy theories (the truth about Reagan-administration indifference to the “gay plague” is horrifying enough without need for germ warfare elaborations) and which is a repeat of a story point from an earlier agit-prop fantasy: the Wachowski-scripted V FOR VENDETTA, which went after G.W. Bush with very internet-era Hitler comparisons. (I liked that film a fair bit despite some egregious flaws. Here’s the nonsensical timeline: government builds concentration camps and experiments on prisoners, creating virus it uses to decimate populace and seize power. Wait, seize power? Aren’t they already IN POWER, powerful enough to set up concentration camps? It’s not just a tangled web, it’s a moebius strip… or a script by people who aren’t as smart as they think they are.)

Tilda as “Oracle”

Brief summary of what I liked in this film: resonant Bryan Cranston voice (his first great movie role); Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel and Tilda Swinton are the Anderson regulars who work best as voice artists (some of the others maybe aren’t distinctive enough*); the beautiful imagery you’d expect; Alexandre Desplat’s score, snagging quotes from THE SEVEN SAMURAI and Prokofiev’s Troika, and reminding me of AKIRA and YOJIMBO in places; deaths of sympathetic characters; no deaths for unsympathetic characters; everything seen on TV screens is animated in 2D, anime-style; I laughed; I cried; it has lots of dogs in it.

Fiona didn’t like that the bad guys are cat lovers: but she liked the fact that jailed evil people got to keep their cats in prison.

*Voice acting for cartoons is strange. In the anaemic ANTZ, Sylvester Stallone’s distinctive mush-mouthed delivery makes him far more effective that Gene Hackman, who just sounds like some dude, despite being self-evidently the superior actor.

12 Responses to “Dog Zero: Unleashed”

  1. I actually liked how Darjeeling Limited approached India. I would argue it’s one of the best and most honest western films about India (which starting from Renoir’s The River and Rossellini’s documentary is an established arthouse repertoire from which Anderson borrows from). Warris Ahluwalia’s performance in that film is a fairly accurate portrayal of Indian Sikh professionals (which is helped by the fact that the real guy is one himself) and of course Wes Anderson in his earlier films had given great roles to Kumar Pallana in addition to Ahluwalia.

    And to me, the whole cultural appropriation stuff, while valid in parts, can ultimately become a reflexive tool to advocate against any culture whatsoever, especially these days when everyone’s idea of big cultural moment is a billion dollar blockbuster for Walt Disney which is not going to get people to see Souleymane Cisse or Ousmane Sembene movies.

    I am not sure if Isle of Dogs will get people to see Japanese movies, anime, stop-motion films either. Because ultimately that’s not really the job of the artist. It’s the job of the viewer.

  2. Trump has no pets.

    No dogs

    No cats.

    Just hookers like his current wife.

  3. Yeah, Trump wouldn’t want animals because he’s a germophobe. Which was also the reason he gve why he wouldn’t engage in watersports with Russian prostitutes. And if that’s your best reason…

    I think Darjeeling Ltd does problematize its heroes’ tourist status in some interesting ways (“I didn’t save mine”) and yes, we’re now at the point where you’ll get criticised for engaging with other cultures anyway at all, which is clearly too much of a pendulum swing to be good.

    And This Time Tomorrow is a great, great song.

  4. The Kinks owe a lot to Garrel and Wes Anderson for their new younger listeners. Certainly was true in my case. This Time Tomorrow in particular was kind of a forgotten and overshadowed number compared to Apeman, Lola and Powerman but now it’s one of their proverbial songs. I don’t think The Kinks ever played that live.

    What I like in Darjeeling Ltd is the authentic tourism. Like that bit where the brothers see Indian kids playing cricket on the street with tennis balls. It’s something that in India is taken for granted and never remarked on, but Anderson is able to pick it and make it work in an American context. And I love that bit where Adrien Brody (I believe) goes into a temple and makes the sign of the cross, because that’s reflective of India’s syncretism. I mean you see slip-ups and stuff like that all the time. I mean basically on the scale of western portrayals of India, where the pits includes that 2nd Indian Jones movie, and stuff like Bengal lancer and middle-of-the-road paternalism that is Attenborough’s Gandhi, Anderson fares well. It’s certainly the best film about India by an American, alongside Huston’s Man Who Would Be King. And you know Darjeeling Ltd. is a small-scale film about people and brothers, so it’s a harmless film at heart. I actually think it’s one of Anderson’s best, although I would put Grand Budapest Hotel as his masterpiece.

  5. When you’re talking the 1960’s as fine as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were THE group is The Kinks. No surprise that in “Vinyl” (1965), one of Andy’s first sound films the song Gerry Malanga and Edie Sedgwick dance to is —

  6. In terms of movies, the Beatles are far less relevant than the Stones and the Kinks. The Beatles have Richard Lester’s Hard Days Night, which is good enough yes, but the Stones have Godard and Performance, and Scorsese and Maysles. The Kinks supply soundtrack to the likes of: Warhol, Wim Wenders (that bit in American Friend where Bruno Ganz listens to “Too Much on My Mind”), Garrel, Wes Anderson, among others.

  7. For years, it was impossible to get Beatles songs for your soundtracks (blame Michael Jackson). But when they became available again, I seem to recall Mr Anderson jumping in with Hey Jude in The Royal Tenenbaums.

    Shampoo uses a lot of Sgt Peppers — playing at every party, as it did.

    My favourite instance outside the official Beatles movies is probably All You Need is Love accompanying a machine-gun massacre in the last episode of The Prisoner.

  8. Ah but Wes didn’t use the Beatles version. He had “Hey Jude” orchestrated for his own peculiar purposes as an overall musical theme for the film (which remains my fave of his works to date.)

  9. True. Much cheaper to get cover versions than originals, when the Fab Formerly Four are involved. Not that it’s all about money: the best thing for me about The Life Aquatic, along with the animation and the cutaway submarine, was the Bowie cover versions.

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