Isle of Dogs (2018)

I have some non-negotiable codified rules in my life. For example, rule 237, If you didn’t like The Grand Budapest Hotel… we can’t be friends. I mean I suppose we could try, but the chances that our relationship is doomed to failure is so astronomically high, it seems pointless to even try. Also, there is something clearly wrong with you…  (like maybe you have a massive tumor pressing against your hypothalamus)

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This review is spoiler-less. And Gluten free… but NOT what some might deem, objective, because, by all commonly accepted metrics, I am a gushing and quivering fan boy of Wes Anderson, director of The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Royal Tenenbaums and the stop-motion screen adaptation of my favourite Roald Dahl, Fantastic Mr. Fox. In my eyes Mr. Anderson’s pedigree is beyond reproach. Ha ha. See what I did there.

*Jo takes a moment to congratulate himself of the successful (at least in his mind) use of a pun* (it doesn’t happen that often for him. He is not that punny) Well done Joey, go get a sticker!

Enter Isle of Dogs. Which is so ridiculously awesome I’ve been struggling to make coherent sentences. (which is evidenced by my above average use of the backspace key, now hopefully inscrutable. Its usually pretty bad, but today even three letter words are a struggle).

Maybe I should just let the movie trailer speak for itself. That way I can’t take the shine off this movie through broad, review ineptitude.

Isle of Dogs hits your right in the squishy, warm center mass that is your feelings. Even if that happens to be a ridiculously small target under normal circumstances… because you wear fur and drown Dalmatians. I think I’ve said enough. Watch this movie!

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Joey occasionally likes other movies. Sometimes he reviews them here

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is – Jiro Ono

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When it comes to movies I’ve become a serious curmudgeon in my old age. I hate almost everything. A childhood friend of mine recently confessed to me that he likes the new Star Wars movies. It pains me to cut him loose… but unfortunately there’s no real coming back from that. We had a good run…

Having said that…

I loved Jiro Dreams of Sushi. 

I suppose I should caveat this tirade with the acknowledgement that I am an unashamed Japanophile. I also love sushi! If I had to live off one ‘type’ of food for the rest of my life, it could easily be this ambrosia-esque fusion of rice and raw seafood. So… there might be a smidgeon of bias in this post.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is not really about sushi. Well… it is. And it isn’t. Its more about (borderline compulsive) obsessiveness, insane discipline and the desire to be the absolute best at your chosen craft or profession. Which is often cosmically aligned with being Japanese. (I’m also fascinated by Japanese woodworking videos on Youtube)

Jiro loves his job. (How many of us can say that?) I mean REALLY loves it. At 85 thats all he wants to do. He has dedicated his entire life to that ‘one’ thing. I wonder how it must feel like to have that level of dedication, that will power, that single-mindedness?

You know that dreaded ‘So what do you do?’ question. At the moment its most often casually tossed at me when all the dads are defensively wagon forted round the snack table at -insert name here- toddlers birthday party. I hate that question. Its not like people really care what you do, they’re just taking a polite breather so they can talk about themselves again in a moment or two.

‘I pursue opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled’. Is my standard answer. Usually no one is brave enough to ask me what the fuck that actually means. I purposely tend to obfuscate because I don’t really have a ‘thing’. I think thats true for a lot of us. We narrowly define ourselves when asked, but thats not necessarily true. Sometimes I worry about my lack of a thing… you know, a serious devotion that defines me, gives meaning to my life, my reason for existing etc.

Would I trade places with Jiro. No… I think there is huge opportunity cost to living like that and even though I sometimes feel like my mind is a windswept directionless wasteland, its still my life. Even if it has been dropped a couple of times… and not necessarily picked up before 5 seconds are up.

Still, I find ‘that’ presence of mind and sense of purpose quite enviable. I suppose it depends what our metric for a successful life is. I don’t know what mine is. I often think you only find out right near the end, and by that stage its difficult to pivot… so I’m keeping my options open. Well, this what I tell myself.

Warning. Don’t watch this movie hungry! I ravaged the refrigerator and pantry cupboard about half through this movie. It didn’t turn out well for me…

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Most of all I liked this movie because I like (true) stories that showcase what humans are capable of. (even if I’m not one of them)

It follows a genre of movies like Meru (Review here) or Maidentrip (Reviewed here) or Under an Arctic Sky (Reviewed here) that I’ve really enjoyed recently.

Jiro dreams of sushi is beautifully shot, engaging and I was throughly entertained throughout.

Ready Player One (2018)

You know in season one of Californication, (the only season they should have made) when Hank Moody has had his guts ripped out because his beloved book has been turned into an abhorrent abortion of a movie? I wonder if Ernest Cline feels that way about the Ready Player One movie? Only he can’t say anything because he’s contractually obligated to just take it up the rectum. (there’s no time for lubricant*)

*I’m channeling a lot of David Duchovny here.

In Californication, in an act of revenge, Hank has sex with the director’s wife. I don’t think that’s going to work out for Ernest Cline though… especially when the director that murdered your book is Steven Spielberg.

To be completely fair I’ve hated pretty much every movie ever made since 2003, so really, that I despise this iteration of a book I love should be of no surprise to me.

Only I really love this book! And perhaps more specifically I REALLY love the Audiobook read by Wil Wheaton. (Reviewed here) They’re both great, so it upsets me when you get a thick slice of Kobe beef and can’t think of anything better to do with it other than turn it into mince meat.

Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One improves immensely on the book. – The Verge.

‘With all due respect… What the fuck… are you talking about?’ – John Malkovich, Burn after reading.

Seriously. Have I slipped into an alternate dimension or something? Did they watch the same movie as me? I know to criticize the almighty Steven Spielberg is to question the divine… but he butchered this one. And then dragged it off into a cornfield and left it to die.

Okay. Calm down Joey, pour yourself a drink. Preferably a double. There must have been something in this movie that you liked?

I liked Art3mis. Well I liked her avatar. In a leery (impossible proportions) Jessica Rabbit kinda way.

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And I liked…

…yeah that’s all I got.

I guess what’s upsetting me the most is that this movie is making me violate my don’t be mean about other people’s stuff policy. I mean so much so that I have to come home and write an angry blog post about it. Not even The Last Jedi got me this worked up. And that was a pretty foamy apoplexy…

Ha ha.

Maybe all this highlights is that I’ve become a crotchety old man. Which isn’t really all that bad. For as long as I can remember (well since 2003) all I’ve ever really aspired to was to end up like Robert Duvall’s character in Second Hand Lions.

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Maybe I’m just well on my way…

Room on the Broom (2012)

At some point during your single, carefree, existence you get this vague sense of Gruffalo-mania that grips your (foolish) friends. Those friends that have procreated and produced progeny I mean. You’re not entirely sure what its all about, but your brain registers this unexplained phenomenon and files it away somewhere (in a wonky cardboard box underneath the sink) for reference later. In the meantime you smirk at your friends greasy hair and the sliver of dried snot running up their shirt sleeve. And years go by.

Then, at some point, you decide to pick up the baton of advancing the species and end up breeding. (Which, as it turns out, is harder than you originally anticipated). You manage to survive the first two years… you’re not entirely sure how…  but it’s usually around now that you get smacked (between your bloodshot eyes) with… the Gruffalo.

But I understand the appeal now. The Gruffalo is a coup d’etat in consumer psychology, managing to bridge a very challenging divide, in so far as it can appeal to two markedly different development cycles, the until recently sperm-ovum combo and the adult that donated it. (Off the top of my head, Pixar manages to do something very similar with its movies)

Julia Donaldson is brilliant. Which maybe I should have just led with, but I felt I owed her a couple of ancillary paragraphs first. You know, some sort of wordy acclamation in honor of her awesomeness.

Julia Donaldson has other books. (who knew) And one of these is, Room on the Broom.

It’s a great book.

10658722-1354798864-305478.jpgBut so is the movie.

I know, I know, heresy. And I’ve been super weary of making a judgement call on which one is better. So I’ve taken the agnostic approach… and straddled the fence on this one. I’ve learnt a valuable lesson when vitamin D deficient bibliophiles and geeks went scouring their (parents) tool sheds for handheld farming implements and torches when I off-handedly remarked that the Lord of the Rings movie was better than the book..

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I still stand by that… but no longer try and inflict my (clearly) insane opinions on anyone else… (that often anymore)

So how awesome is Room on a Broom? This is much… (Joey holds his hands out wide) At least six feet* of awesome.

* I may be making that up…. since I’m not entirely sure how far I can stretch… and engaging my core now to exit this extremely supine position to fetch a measuring tape,  fills me with… sloth.

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I do have one… small… tiny gripe about this movie. They changed the word ‘chips’ (in the book) to ‘fries’ (in the movie). As in French fries. Which really annoyed me. More than it should have.

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I’m pretty sure America could have figured this out. After all they’ve sent people to the moon. (which indicates some level of competence at problem solving) Stop mollycoddling them with language. And you Simon Pegg (the narrator) *points at eyes, points and Simon* are complicit in this! Shame on you.

But other than that, this is a really great animation and I heartily recommend it. Yay Julia Donaldson, yay!

The Birth of Sake (2015)

My formative experience with Sake was when I was fifteen, sleeping over at a friends house. His dad marked the bottles in their bar with a sharpie so he would know if there was any clandestine imbibing of alcohol. Except for one, an archaic jar like bottle of Sake, which he didn’t care about.

It was god awful. I suspect it was waaaaaaaay beyond drinking, and tasted what I can only imagine paint thinners tastes like. Perhaps more useful as an embalming agent or to remove tar tracked into your carpet (but what did we know) I likely gave myself alcohol poisoning and ended up having to sleep with one foot on the floor to stop the room from spinning.

That episode colored my perception of Sake for the next twenty years.

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Until I went to Japan. Which was an experience of Damascasian proportions. OH! THIS is how its supposed to be.

I am a generally speaking a Japanophile. Sure there are things that I don’t really ‘get’. Like their insane obsession with pachinko (ball bearing gambling machines) and the otaku culture of Akihabara. But I love sushi, jujitsu, bullet trains, zen gardens and Kyoto.

The thing I admire most about Japanese people though, is the way they do things. The first day I was in Tokyo I went for a walk around the Imperial palace. On my way there, there was this small section of road construction. A temporary walkway had been constructed that deviated from the main pedestrian thoroughfare. It has been taped off and clearly marked out but there was this elderly Japanese gentleman standing there, in some sort of municipal uniform whose job it was to guide you through this small zig-zag detour. He took his job super seriously. He bowed as you approached and then extended his arm to demonstrate how best to engage the detour. I was fascinated. I think about that old man quite often and how he took such pride in himself and his extremely menial and boring job.

The Birth of Sake is a documentary about the 144 year old Yoshida Brewery. They brew Sake in a traditional way, a process that lasts the entire winter. In that time, the brewers eat, sleep and work together. This film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and went on to win the Best Documentary award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Making Sake in the this way is mind numblingly labor intensive. It makes the process of making our western beer and wine seem like adding orange flavored concentrate to water, shaking it up and then drinking the result.

You don’t need to be a fan of Sake to appreciate this movie. Or even alcohol really. This film is engrossing because of the mindset of the people. In a world of automation, devoid of human craftsmanship I find it fascinating to watch people who still take their trade so seriously. It makes me cheerful that stuff like this still exists.

Very much recommended. Catch it on Netflix.

 

Kubo and the two strings (2016)

If you must blink, do it now, pay careful attention to everything you see, now matter how unusual it may seem. If you look away, even for an instant, then our hero will surely perish. 

Kubo and the two strings doesn’t feel American. I know that potentially sounds disenchanted and it’s probably not the best opening line I could come up with. But its the first thing that came to mind when I watched this movie. It’s meant to sound more like an unintended compliment and less like disillusionment (okay, maybe it’s a little disillusioned). It’s that Kubo is so fresh and different from the mainstream formulaic animation that has become a modern day studio staple that stirs my combativeness.

I feel capitalism inflicts a ‘style over substance’ regime on American animation studios. Everything they do is very pretty, technically amazing, but character development and story often feel like they’ve been added in as an afterthought. I think there is this conception that children are into visuals and humor, but story and imagination is wasted on them. As a story-telling mammal I’m inclined to disagree. Slowly over time, my regard for big budget American animation has slowly eroded. (I rage about this constantly in computer games too)

Its nice to be proven wrong from time to time.

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Kubo and the two strings is absolutely stellar, but I am unashamed Japanophile so I’m heavily bias towards the flavor of this stop motion film. Kubo is not an anime however, it retains its Western feel… but I think it’s likely that someone at Laika (Kubo’s production studio) is a big Ghibli* fan. Not in artistic style, but there’s something about Kubo that somehow feels very Japanese to me. Its not something I am nuanced or smart enough to be able to explain, Japanese narratives just have a different feel. Like when you go to a foreign country and you’re not used to the electrical sockets. It sorta feels like that.

* The Japanese Animation studio that made Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro. 

Kubo and the two strings follows the story of a young twelve year old boy in medieval Japan. Kubo was maimed by his grandfather, Raiden (the moon-god), who plucked out his eye when he was young. Kubo lives in a cave with his catatonic mother*. Everyday he treks to the closest village to earn money as a performance artist. (Kubo has some limited magical ability to animate paper and turns them into origami to help him tell stories). Events soon transpire and Kubo is thrust into an epic journey to recover his father’s sword and armor and face off against his evil grandfather.

*definitely NOT your usual storyboard.

For some reason it reminded me of an older animated movies like Disney’s The Black Cauldron (1985) although they are not similar. Maybe just because they deviated so much from the standard.

I look forward to being able to sit and watch Kubo and the two strings with my daughter. Although I imagine that will only be in a couple of years because of the ‘light’ horror element that comes with the mythology in this film.

If you liked Box-trolls or Coraline (Also great Laika creations) you’ll like Kubo and the two strings. Highly recommended.

Mary and Max (2009)

I briefly considered creating some sort of spurious narrative, but truthfully I was Facebook-stalking an ex-girlfriend. She happened to be extolling the virtues of this movie in her status. Not something she would do lightly. She’d made me sit and watch Donnie Darko with her on our second date as a sort of litmus test to see whether or not I was worthy of her time.

Despite us not working out, I felt her taste in movies was generally beyond reproach. Enter Mary and Max, an Australian stop-motion film that opened the Sundance festival in 2009.

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Despite what it looks like, this is not a kids movie. It deals with some pretty serious themes. Depression, neglect, addiction, loneliness, Asperger syndrome, suicide and a slew of anxiety disorders. Which probably immediately makes you wonder ‘that sounds horrible, why the hell would I watch this?’ OR ‘god this sounds like my life, why would I watch this?’

All the things that make this movie quite dark are largely negated by the humour and the artistic clay-mation style of the movie. Mary and Max is quirky and wry, funny and sad, rich and thoughtful. Philip Seymour Hoffman voicing Max is stellar. It left me feeling buoyant and cheerful, despite being shot in the same color pallette as a dirty puddle.

This not a movie you should watch flippantly though. After a workday that more resembles a verse from Dante’s inferno (Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intratethis is not the movie to bring you back from the brink. This is more of a post dinner, Friday night with wine, pre-intercourse movie.

Its a very unusual film. But definitely one you won’t forget about.

Meru (2015)

I once dated a girl who was an avid climber. Trad, sport and bouldering. And as boys do, her interests (for a while) became my interests. Only my climbing was abhorrent. I mean this is someone who struggled to walk on the glass floor on the observation deck of the CN tower with any sense of conviction. (I mostly walked on the seams)

Notwithstanding my aversion to heights, I also may have some trust issues. ‘Belay on’ became psychological spillway for me. Plus my physique is all wrong and the hippie culture associated with climbing makes me want to cut myself….

In my defence. She was really pretty.

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Some Homo Sapiens are defective. The amygdala in their brain is small, shrivelled and clearly malfunctioning, ergo they have no fear. Enter Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk. Three Uber-Menschen as envisioned by Friedrich Nietzsche one hundred and thirty years prior.

Nietzsche had this theory called the Will to power that he believed was the main driving force in humans ie. achievement, ambition, and the striving to reach the highest possible position in life. (I don’t think he meant literally above-sea level, but who knows)

Meru is a documentary that followers these three climbers on their quest to be the first Menschen to ascend the Meru peak via the ‘Sharks fin’ in the Indian Himalayas. Basically 1.2km of sheer, vertical rock and ice. It makes climbing Everest look like a Sunday stroll pushing a perambulator along the Serpentine. (Jimmy Chin climbed Everest, and then skied down)

The movie is 87 minutes long. Forty sphincter-puckering minutes of that I was on the edge of my seat. The other forty seven minutes I was fidgeting nervously in anticipation.

This is a movie that proves what human beings are capable of when we put our minds to it. It’s not my place to question what motivates these guys do the dangerous things they do, or how they justify the risks they take when one misstep can leave their children without a father and their wives widowed. I do however appreciate the skills they’ve acquired and finesse with which they practice their chosen craft.

Try to balance risking too much and risking too little. Life is short and both are significant risks – Jimmy Chin, on twitter 

If these guys can action this level of achievement, what stopping me with my more mundane aspirations in life?

This film is beautifully shot and edited. Its immersive and interesting. And while it didn’t motivate me to try on some crampons, it may have enthused me to try and do a pullup.

Under an Arctic Sky (2017)

This is not a surf movie. Well, it kinda is, there are waves and they do get surfed. But that’s not really what this movie is about…

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This movie is more about doing something beyond convention, erasing the imaginary  boundaries that we’ve created for ourselves and doing something remarkable. All done in sublime style with the most amazing backdrop imaginable. The real star of this movie, and apologies to Chris Burkard and his motley crew, is Iceland.

Iceland is stupefyingly gorgeous. My wife and I went there on our honeymoon. It like no place I’ve ever been to before. It’s all rocks and moss and lichen and rivers and glaciers. Its haunting and beautiful. I could live there, and I don’t say that lightly. Íslendingar are also the best sort. They are such awesome people. If you ever get the chance, go there! You will not regret it.

Having said all that I don’t mean to take away from the human cast and their adventurous accomplishments. I do wish that the movie was a bit longer so we get to know them all a bit better. They all seem so interesting. Chris Burkard, director and chief instigator, has a really good eye. His shots are always beautifully framed and you really get the sense that you’re watching something artisanal and well crafted. I have skill envy. And maybe also life envy.

The movie also has a very tactile element to it. Watching it makes you really feel the cold. Which I thought was interesting. Made me want don my wetsuit… and then pee in it. Likely an effect of the great cinematography, or maybe just a deep rooted phobia that trudging through knee deep snow may cause my toes to blacken and slough off. There are not many movies that can make me feel like that, so kudos to you.

What I really like about this movie is that these guys managed to created something beautiful and got to experience something truly profound. They were brave and dared greatly. Well done guys, great movie.

 

Maidentrip (2014)

At the venerable age of thirty-eight I can appreciate that I am half way to the terminal point on my current life expectancy, unless of course, I die sooner rather than later. Momento mori. I appreciate that my remaining time is a precious commodity, one that I certainly no longer wish to waste on pure frivolity. If I’m going to commit to two hours of television it has to be something that must come highly recommended, preferably through a trusted source with a proven track record whose suggestions are few and far between.

My particular psychosis means I gravitate towards weird indie films and movies that (briefly) make me feel like I’ve done nothing particularly profound with my life. I also like movies where the hero dies at the end.

While not completely committed to a single genre I do like epic adventure documentaries with plucky, likeable underdogs.

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Enter Laura Dekker who, at age 14 became the youngest person to circumnavigate the world, SOLO. It took her 518 days at which point she sailed into Sint Maarten, age sixteen. She mostly documented the journey herself, her first person footage becoming the foundation for the movie.

There is one thing that doesn’t sit well with me throughout the movie. Although I’m trying not to judge circumstances over which I do not have perfect knowledge. I never quite get over the mind bending lack of paternal regard that Dick Dekker has for his daughter, allowing her to drop out of school and countenancing her epic world sojourn aboard eleven feet of fiberglass. Appropriate namesake. I’m glad she survives.

Laura is amazing.

I can only remember in broad strokes what I was doing at age fifteen but I certainly had zero desire to risk death alone on a tiny ketch bobbing around in the ocean. It is likely that the only vaguely ambitious thing I ever did at that age was staying up late to download grainy low definition pornography on my dialup.

Even now as a cantankerous veteran of life with a respectable number of injuries garnered both in battle and impacting with stationary objects of various densities I can with absolute certainty attest that there are things that are beyond my capabilities. Sailing solo around the world is definitely one of them.

Still, I find it comforting that there are people out there that are disregarding convention and living life the way they choose to live it. I find that quite hopeful.