Friday, April 19, 2024

The First Oscar Movie of 2018? Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs” Prescient Take on Trump and Banned Immigrants– with Its All Star Cast and Mesmerizing Art Production


It was quite the star-studded turn out last night for Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs,” but then again, the cast itself is right in the targeted heart of movie zeitgeist right now: Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber, Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban, Fisher Stevens, Harvey Keitel,  Jeff Goldblum. all voice Anderson’s proud animated pups, descendants of “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” who are a little less twee than their forebears and maybe metaphors for so much going on right now in our world. Courtney B. Vance narrates the story like a younger sounding Morgan Freeman.

All those actors came to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a swanky Fox Searchlight party celebrating this unique film, quite possibly a Best Picture nominee for next year (and we just finished last year!).

Missing were Bryan Cranston and Scarlett Johansson, who are key to the film. But Frances McDormand and Greta Gerwig (voices of the few humans) and husband Joel Coen, Alessandro Nivola, Jake Paltrow and famous photographer wife Taryn Simon, actress Mickey Sumner and husband Chris Kantrowitz more than made up for them. I also met Anderson actor Tony Revolori, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” director Alfonso Rejon. Spike Jonze was in the audience, even Norman Reedus.

By the end of the night, everyone in town seemed to know that the Met lobby was the place to be. Joel Edgerton showed up with a posse that included Young Man of the Year Timothee Chalamet.

The highlight of the party: Bill Murray joining a Brooklyn drum corps hired for the night, and later hugging newly minted Oscar winner McDormand.

The one disappointment: no Yoko Ono, who makes a voice cameo in this brilliant, richly texured, droll concoction that was initiated five years ago before Donald Trump was even a blip in anyone mind.

But “Isle of Dogs” seems like an allegory now for the Trump world. We have a dictator like Mayor Kobayashi who was banned all dogs from the city of Megasaki in futuristic Japan to the scrap heap of Trash Island after causing a fake public health scare about them. (He declares they have incurable dog flu.) It takes the dogs and a band of enlightened kids (I know, doesn’t this sound prescient) to overturn the situation, reveal the Mayor as a fraud, restore the dogs to prominence as meaningful members of society.

Are we just projecting? I think not. Production began in October 2016 for the stop action animation. But seriously, by then the stench of Trump and his plan to deport everyone he didn’t like was becoming clearer.

So here we are with Wes Anderson, truly barking up the right tree. He’s made a brilliant film that far exceeds any regular animated film. It’s a gem, and a piece of art. This story of Man Denigrates Dog is set against an outstanding backdrop created by Paul Harrod, Adam Stockhausen, Curt Enderle and hundreds of artists. Just about every frame has to be studied individually while the snappy dialogue continues– for references to art, history, and culture. Not only that– just the depth of the frames, augmented by tricky lighting, makes the dogs seem three dimensional.

But the whole thing hangs on the characters, who are delineated so exactly by Anderson, Schwartzman, producer Roman Coppola, and actor Kunichi Nomura (he’s the voice of the Trump like mayor). Of course my favorite dog in the pack always has a new “Did you hear?” announcement about the goings on on Trash Island and Megasaki. One of his pals finally turns to him, exasperated, and asks, “Where do you hear these things?” The dog responds, “I pick things up and here and there…I love gossip!” Hilarious.

See this movie!


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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